Han waved the breathing tube strapped to the airmask over his nose and mouth to the side, peering down. The Bacta fluid had done its work: the ‘saber wound under his ribs had healed to a dull, ridged burn scar, patched over synth-flesh. Han looked around warily. Against the curved part-reflection of the glass, Han could see that he was wearing a bolted airmask over his face, his narrowed, worn eyes blinking back at him over the black plastic, wrinkles etching in everywhere. His beard and silver hair had grown out, feathering awkwardly around his face in the Bacta gel, and most of what was left of his muscle tone was gone, leaving just a skinny frame that was, at some bits, more scar tissue than flesh. Story of Han Solo, right there. Not so much a misspent youth but a misspent everything, maybe.
He was in some sort of… of shelf, holding tube after Bacta tube, lined up neatly against a gunmetal gray wall, with filter tubes caught at the top and bottom of each tank. Against the opposite wall were more tubes, three deep, and Han was on the second level of tubes on his side. The lights were banked low, and but Han could see that only about half of the tubes were full, their contents inert, dead or sleeping he couldn’t quite tell. He wasn’t the only human, but most of the others were Rodians, with a scattering of other bipedal species here and there.
Propping his shoulders up against the back of the tube and his feet against the front, Han managed to inch his way firmly up to the lid. Determined shoves only made his palms ache, and when he kicked angrily at the smooth metal lid, Han only managed to nearly tear the breathing mask off his face. Bracing himself as best he could with arms and shoulders, Han tried kicking at the glass instead, frowning with the effort, and yelped into the mask as the whole tube abruptly shuddered, then started to detach smoothly away from the wall, corkscrewing to the centre of the narrow room before stopping abruptly in the middle of the chamber, then floating down the room to Han’s right, serving Han’s head a smart whack on the glass as he lost his balance, knocked about in the tube like a pinball. Above and below him, the filter grilles shuttered up, and there was a faint pneumatic hiss as the tubes detached, coiling themselves up neatly against the slot in the gunmetal shelf where Han’s tube had been.
Dazed, rubbing his head gingerly, Han let himself float. Above, he could hear the hydraulic purr of whatever machinery had a grip on his tank, and as they reached a set of blast doors at the end of the room, Han blinked away spots from his eyes as the doors unlocked and peeled open, letting in a bright slat of light that fell full over his eyes. Beyond the Bacta tank room was a smaller, cube-like room, clinically white, with a dotted grille for a floor and nozzles set at waist height. Han spent only a second or so taking it all in before the world abruptly skewed sideways - he barked his elbow against the glass with a yelp, then gasped as the airmask unwound away from his face, and before he knew it he had been decanted unceremoniously onto the cold grille, wheezing in surprise. The air smelled sterile, of hot water and heated plastic. Han’s tank withdrew smoothly through a large slot in the wall, carried by a mechanical arm winched to the lid, and just as Han tried to get to his feet, he was abruptly blasted on all sides by steaming hot water and disinfectant.
“Fuck!” Han croaked, his voice oddly rusty - hell, how long had he been out? Sputtering and staggering, he nearly slipped and fell flat on his face, but managed to back off instead, flattening himself against the wall next to one of the nozzles, wide-eyed, spitting water and raising his hands to shield his face. The nozzles dried up after a few minutes of roaring heat and steam, just as Han was beginning to think that he would be braised into a human prune, then a door opened, to Han’s right, and he hastily ducked through, only to let out a yelp as he was ruthlessly air-dried from all sides by cyclonic funnels.
Utterly disoriented and now more than a little shell-shocked, Han tumbled out of that particular horror on shaky feet, into another gunmetal narrow corridor, dizzily wondering whether he was, in fact, dead after all, and in some kinda special hell for grizzled old smugglers. As he leaned against one of the steel walls to catch his breath, a hatch whirred open, opposite him, and a drawer slid out. It held only a bright yellow jumpsuit and a pair of synth-leather boots, both of which fit Han perfectly. Emblazoned on the back of the jumpsuit in blocky type was a number: 51395-0, and sewn onto both shoulders were ID bars.
As he took another step, the light bars on the ceiling grew brighter. “Good afternoon, Sector Citizen Miles Bird,” said a smoothly unemotional ‘droid voice. “Welcome to Star’s Reach. I am Sector Warden Reach, and will be overseeing your overall stay. Your med-stay comprised of sixty-eight days five hours two seconds, a debt that has been added to your Sector Debt tally.”
“Star’s Reach… Sector Debt…” Han groaned, his steam-addled brain managing to cobble two and two together. “I’m in the Corporate Sector? How the hell?” And a Sector Citizen? A long time ago, Han had once managed to wrangle himself a Waiver after a long series of illegal adventures, allowing the Falcon free access to Sector space, but he’d never managed to forge Citizen-level ID.
“I understand that you may be disoriented by your long Bacta stay,” added Warden Reach, unemotionally. “And you may take a few minutes to reorient yourself. Please note however that your total Sector Debt tally now stands at one hundred eighty-five days thirteen hours’ Rehabilitation Labour.”
“Wait a minute,” Han said suspiciously. “Star’s Reach. That a prison?” Part of said illegal adventures had involved the destruction of Star’s End, a high security Sector prison, in ways that were not entirely Han’s fault.
“Star’s Reach is a Rehabilitation Facility,” replied Warden Reach reproachfully. “For Citizens who have engaged in Unbecoming Behaviour. You have tallied two counts of Drunken Disorderly Behaviour and one count of Cheating At Grift Cards.”
“Now listen here,” Han began, then hastily swallowed the rest of his retort. A Rehabilitation Facility? Sounded like a low security prison to Han. And whoever had retrieved him from Starkiller Base and dumped him here had even gone to all the trouble to forge him a Citizen ID. “Sure,” Han added quickly. “Yeah. I’ve uh. Copped to all that. My bad. Sorry?”
“Your remorse is duly noted and encouraged, Citizen Bird. Please proceed along the corridor to your Designated Cell. We hope that you enjoy your stay in Star’s Reach and become a Fully Contributing Citizen yet again in due course.”
“Don’t have a choice there, do I,” Han growled, but the ‘droid was silent, and he shuffled along the gunmetal corridor, keeping an eye out. If this was a minimum security joint, slipping out hopefully would just be a matter of memorising some guard patrols, some light splicing, and finding a ship with a stardrive. And then-
And then. Assuming that Chewbacca had survived, or anyone, or that they’d managed to blow up that base on time, or-
Han shook off the brief uptick of panic, and breathed out, clenching his fists. No point worrying about things that he couldn’t change. First things first. He had to find a way to jet out of here.
Finn lowered his vibroblade, turning on his heel, and he grinned as Poe ambled over in his measured flyboy swagger. Damn but Finn sometimes wished that he could walk like that, like he could take any punches that the ‘verse wanted to throw and still come up tops. Finn had tried practicing once, in the room that the Resistance had given him after he’d woken up in the med-bay, but he had only managed to awkwardly trip over his own feet and had bruised his hip against his desk.
His desk. His room. Finn had never owned anything before - even his Stormtrooper gear had really belonged to the First Order, to be racked up for sterilisation just before lights out. Owning property was a surreal experience. Where did it stop? What about air? Why were some things counted as ‘mine’ but actually belonged to the Resistance, like Poe’s new X-Wing? Sometimes it felt like it was possible to own things just by sitting your ass down on it and not budging. Life outside the First Order was chaos at the best of times.
“Hey,” Poe had gotten close, and he looked concerned, his open, expressive face scrunched up in a frown. Poe was out of his flightsuit today, dressed in a gray shirt over a typical spacer rig - breeches with ample pockets, grav boots, blaster tucked over a hip.
“Nothing. Just checking in. How’s the back?”
“Synth-flesh finally did its work.” Finn twisted, carefully. “Still can’t turn the whole way, but at least it missed my spine and all that. Meaning,” Finn added dryly, “Nothing’s changed since yesterday, not that much. Everyone can stop freaking out.”
Poe’s jaw tightened, and at Finn’s curious stare, he sighed. “I can’t believe you’re still taking all that so lightly. Bit more to the right and all the synth-flesh and bacta in the galaxy wouldn’t have saved you.”
“People get injured in battle,” Finn pointed out, having never understood why Poe had been so relieved when Finn had woken up, and then angry when Finn hadn’t been able to sit up, not at first. Angry at the First Order, anyway. Personally, Finn thought that he was crazy lucky to have even survived going toe to toe with a Sith Lord in the first place, in a lightsaber duel. He had survived. Han Solo hadn’t been nearly as lucky.
“That’s not the point,” Poe sounded a little frustrated. “Maybe life was cheap in the First Order,” he said finally, as Finn said nothing, bewildered again. “But that’s not the case everywhere else. Well. Not here anyway,” Poe corrected.
Normally, Finn would just nod warily and clumsily change the subject when Poe got earnest like this. After a few false starts in the early weeks, Finn had learned quickly that sometimes speaking whatever was forefront on his mind occasionally upset non-First Order people. Learning to recognise conversational land mines with so-called ‘normal people’ had taken a great deal of trial and error.
Today, the practice room was quiet, and Finn had been getting a little tired of the Resistance patting themselves on the back all these months. “Life’s cheap everywhere when it’s a war,” Finn pointed out. “First Order snuffed out those New Republic planets. Killed billions. We blew up Starkiller base. Killed millions. When you get to that kind of calculus? Millions, billions, it all becomes one big statistic.”
“The New Republic planets were mostly full of civilians,” Poe had taken on what Finn mentally termed the Now-We-Are-Explaning-Things-To-The-Stormtrooper tone, which had been funny at first, but which was starting to wear on him. “Starkiller base wasn’t.”
“It was full of people like me, you mean.”
Poe grimaced. “Finn-“
“We weren’t really that much different,” Finn said quietly. “I told you FN-2187 was my name and you thought that was weird, sure. But I did have a name. The other troopers, those who bunked with me, they called me Eight-Seven. There were four of us who were pretty tight, ‘cos we were always stuck doing simulations together. Nines, Zeroes and Slip. Phasma’s legion, so I guess like Phasma, they were all on the base when it went.”
“I’m not saying that I would’ve done things differently,” Finn added, as Poe seemed suddenly frozen. “But, you guys. Going on about how it’s OK to wipe out everyone in the base because they weren’t ‘civilians’? I don’t know. Most of us troopers, we were either cloned or taken early from our families. Life down there’s all we ever knew.”
“You walked away from it,” Poe pointed out, uncomfortably.
“‘Cos I had an opportunity to,” Finn shot back. “You saw it yourself. You never believed me when I told you trying to save your ass was the right thing to do. You knew I did it 'cos I needed a pilot.”
“I’m sorry about your friends.”
“Why? They were stormtroopers. Knew what they were in for. Or just ‘cos they were my friends?” Finn shook his head. “What about everyone else? They were people too, right? The thing is,” he added quickly, as Poe opened his mouth. “I get killing people in war, all right? And how much more messed up it is to kill civilians. I mean. Refusing to kill civilians was what caused the, uh, break, in my conditioning. But I think you guys still don’t understand why the First Order hates all of you so much. The Resistance, the New Republic, all of it.”
“And why’s that?” Poe’s tone had gone quiet, with none of his usual easy humour, but loud as the warning signs were, Finn was in a reckless mood now, and the words were on the tip of his tongue.
“‘Cos for you guys, it’s us versus them, right? Us. Them. You guys are the ‘good guys’, everyone else against you are the bad guys. Evil. And you know what? Scary as the First Order is, sometimes, you guys here scare me just as much. Guerilla tactics here, a skirmish there, a million here, a billion there… the ‘good guys’ won over the bad guys, that’s how you guys swing it. ‘Good’ always wins out in the end, right? And everyone else, hell, they ain’t even people anymore.”
“That’s not how it is,” Poe said tightly, “And not what everyone here’s fighting for.”
“Sometimes it seems like everyone’s fighting just ‘cos that’s the only thing they know how to do.” Finn waved up at the sky. “It’s crazy to me sometimes. We’ve got stardrives. We can go anywhere in the universe. There’s so many planets out there, so much left to see. But we’re all still fighting and killing each other.”
Poe glanced up at the sky, still in the pale blue of a warm afternoon, and to Finn’s relief, he smiled, if ruefully. “That’s right. If you look at it that way, it’s all crazy.” He hooked his thumbs into his gunbelt, and exhaled. “Why are you still here, then? You’ve been discharged from med-bay for close to a week now. We do skip runs out to Moft II for supplies once a week. You could probably catch a jump out deeper into the Outer Rim. Maybe even out to Wild Space.”
“‘Cos there’s no point. Rey showed me that.”
Poe’s smile faded in careful degrees, until he was sober all over again. “You’re waiting for her to come back.”
“She’ll be back here eventually,” Finn agreed confidently. “I mean. Luke Skywalker is the General’s brother, right? Sure they’re coming back here. After they find that temple.”
“All this time and you still haven’t given up, huh?”
“The General hasn’t given up,” Finn said, puzzled now. “Got to trust high command.” Most of the time. “Don’t worry,” he added, when Poe didn’t smile. “Rey’s pretty special.”
“That she is,” Poe said neutrally, his jaw set, and stalked off. Finn watched him go, now completely bewildered.
Maybe he’d just stepped on another conversational land mine, but thinking back, Finn couldn’t quite for the life of him imagine what the land mine could’ve been. Mentioning Luke Skywalker, maybe? Some of the people in the Resistance clearly either thought he was dead or wouldn’t come back. After all, Luke had wandered off somewhere in search of some sort of magic temple and hadn’t come back, not even when his own sister had needed his help.
And sure. Finn was a little worried. They’d had Luke’s exact coordinates, after all. The Millennium Falcon had a stardrive, and that patch of the Outer Rim was uninhabited space. There shouldn’t have been any trouble getting to Luke, scooping him up, and coming back. But it had been months, with no word, as though the Millennium Falcon itself had disappeared, and all right, so Rey had Woken Up In the Force, or whatever General Organa had called it, but space was huge, and filled with all sorts of terrors.
Which was why Finn was training with a vibroblade, following records of lightsaber katas from Republic records. It was the only thing he could really think of doing right now to help, insignificant as it might be in the greater scheme of things. He hadn’t risen to the top ranks of cadet school without being competitive, and Finn didn’t like being beat. If he ever had to get down and dirty with ‘sabers again, Finn was going to make sure that he was the one to come up tops, rather than pass out and let everyone down. He didn’t ever wan’t to wake up convinced that maybe everyone important to him was dead, ever again. Rey was going to come back to all of them sometime. And if they were going to go up against the First Order again, this time, Finn wanted to be as ready as he’d ever be.
Some reading material:
The speeder wasn’t as cobbled together and top-heavy as the one Rey had built out of parts scavved from the Starship Graveyard, but it tended to yaw to the left despite Rey’s best efforts. It had been painted white and blue, just like the Resistance X-Wings: though it was nowhere near as stable as an X-Wing, despite how surprisingly sweetly the engine could purr. Chewbacca disapproved, and occasionally made his disapproval known by yowling at her when she set out, but Rey had made her own adjustments to the speeder with the few tools available off the Millennium Falcon anyway.
Besides, if she drowned out here, or got eaten by the megapreds that she sometimes saw, swimming as dark slithering shadows under the vastness of the blue expanse - it wasn’t as though Luke would care.
Thanks to her exposure to the actual, irascible Han Solo and Chewbacca, Rey had started to learn to temper her expectations where childhood heroes were concerned. But still. Solo had been heroic to the end, trying to talk down his son and dying because of it. Chewbacca had more or less single-handedly extracted Rey and Finn off Starkiller base. And General Organa was everything that the stories said she was, wise and fierce and larger than life.
Luke? Disappointment was the least of what Rey felt. Despair, maybe. She glared at the horizon and revved the speeder into a cough of higher speed, skimming over the waves, jaw set. Rey knew that she was months overdue to get back to D’Qar. To even send a comm message back, even. She hadn’t dared log a response to any of the encrypted comm packs that Chewbacca skimmed. Rey couldn’t begin to imagine how to break the news to the General. Sorry, but your brother really doesn’t fucking care about anything anymore, General. Chewie and I tried, hell did we try. But there’s nothing out here in this ocean planet, no magic temple, nothing, and I think the disappointment killed what was left of him. That was the nicest way that Rey could put it.
Some Great Last Hope Luke had turned out to be.
Rey slowed for a moment as sleek dark shadows sped up under her, around her, preparing to kick up the speeder to a higher alt if she had to. The sun was starting to sink down lower in the sky, behind banks of thick clouds, today’s winds cold enough that she was bundled up with her thermal blanket. Daytime seemed to make the megapreds sluggish, but the ocean world was effectively one huge cauldron of life, and the megapreds weren’t the only dangerous things out here.
The first sleek body that cleaved out of the water like a silver bullet beside her speeder made Rey relax a fraction, grinning. The Millennium Falcon’s databanks had been very light on the topic of flora and fauna, save with regards to things that were dangerous, valuable or both, but the closest thing in the databanks to the local fauna out on the ocean planet was a log about the Naboo Ocean about something called a ‘colo claw fish’.
As such, in the databanks, Rey had logged the leaping, playful creatures as Finnfish. They always swam in shoals of five or six, each as long as Chewbacca was tall, their silver bodies narrow at their toothy snout, with great wide tails, their backs striped dark, their bellies white, camouflaging them from anything looking over from above or below. Usually they raced Rey for klicks until they eventually got bored. There were a couple of shoals that tended to stay close to The Stair, and over the weeks, Rey had learned how to recognise them. The one with her now was captained by a big Finnfish with large battle scars on its tail that looked like they came from tangling with a megapred, and Rey had named it Dosmit.
Today, instead of kicking up speed and racing them out over the waves, Rey decelerated to a stop, with a deep sigh, and looked back over her shoulder. She’d taken the speeder out here after arguing with Luke yet again - as much as one could ‘argue’ with someone whose only responses tended to be stares or monosyllabic grunts, anyway. In the end Rey had gotten so angry that R2-D2 had intervened, whistling and clicking with alarm, and when Rey had stormed off, she noticed that Luke had only stared after her for a heartbeat, meditatively, before turning back to his fishing.
Fishing. Rey was sick of eating fish, and so was Chewbacca. Every morning at breakfast, chewing on salted fish, Rey swore blind that this was the day that she was going to raise ship. Either kidnap Luke or hot off around the stars. Do something. Every night after whatever bland stew Luke managed to rustle up, Rey promised herself that the next day would be different. And she was still here. Damn and blast it all! Rey had come here thinking that this was the easy part. She had imagined herself going back with Luke, Finn’s face, being named as a padawan before everyone. Something. Rey had expected something. Anger, even. Rejection, if it came to that. Not this endless silence.
Dosmit peeked out of the water at her, raising its sleek body far enough out that the translucent, weird membrane that ringed it behind its toothy snout was raised out of the waves. Whatever that membrane was, it held in some sort of liquid, dotted with light that sparked or dimmed in various colours, and as far as Rey could tell, the membrane ring was the ocean planet creatures’ version of eyes and ears. Rey waved at it, and Dosmit clapped the front set of its narrow fins on the waves, as though trying to encourage her to start the race. When Rey shook her head and sighed again, Dosmit ducked, surfacing further over the waves, flicking her with water with a dash of its large tail.
“Stop that!” Rey scolded the Finnfish captain, and it glided over, raising its body out of the body again to peer at her - or whatever passed as peering at something on this world. In a loose arc around their Captain, the other Finnfish in the shoal also pushed their way out, copying their leader, though Rey noted that one Finnfish stayed lower in the water, patrolling in a slow arc, looking out for prey or megapreds.
“I’m not in the mood,” Rey said apologetically, abruptly embarrassed by her audience.
Dosmit clapped its fins again over the waves, both the first and second sets, this time, and Rey closed her eyes, calming her mind with a breath, imagining an ocean. Not this one, but a calmer one, far as the eye could see, a deep green-blue, like thick, blown glass. Under it, she dived, reaching, and there it was, six quicksilver minds, so alien, but bright, in their way. They were of the Sky Sea. Rey was Earth Sea. Rey almost corrected them, almost, but held back just in time, cautious. Instead, she touched their minds, and let them touch hers-
-and then they were gone. Rey snapped her eyes open, startled, just in time to see Dosmit’s shadow as it dived, along with the rest of the shoal, shooting away underwater. Alarmed, Rey stood up, braced against the racer, and looked about quickly, but she didn’t sense any of the sea-large megapred minds, or any whisper-quick small prey minds. She’d driven them away, frightened them, maybe. Depressed all over again, Rey sat down heavily, burying her face briefly in her hands. Then she let out a huge sigh, and kicked the speeder into gear, chasing the horizon.
It was growing dark by the time Rey reluctantly turned the speeder around to head back. Days were longer in the ocean world compared to Jakku, and the world wasn’t nearly as warm; they were further from the sun, just a little, and what a difference it made! To her left, as the sun’s shadow rippled in a glorious golden tongue over the darkening shimmer of the sea, it seemed to set the banks of cloud afire with streamers of purple and silver. Sunset on a glorious alien world, and it was just her, out here, all for her. A scavenger from Jakku. Just her. For a moment, Rey forgot her depression, laughing joyously, and raced the sunset all the way back to the Falcon.
When she was within sight of the Stair, the fire that Chewie often lit near the Falcon a faint blink of light near the horizon, Rey whooped as the Finnfish shoal returned, Dosmit leaping up high next to the speeder. At the next leap, however, Rey had to swerve hard, nearly falling right into the ocean, as Dosmit came so close that it nearly smacked right into the rear stabiliser vane. As Rey decelerated, alarmed, Dosmit poked its head out of the water, and spat something from its mouth into Rey’s lap.
“Hey!” Rey yelped, grabbing at whatever it was out of instinct, then she nearly fumbled it into the water out of shock. It was a little triangle of metal, as large as her palm, thick with hieroglyphic, angular symbols. Rey glanced back at Dosmit, which smacked its frontal fins on the water again, as though pleased with itself, and this time, Rey laughed. A present from the deep.
“Thanks, Dosmit. It’s really pretty.” This got her a few splashes, from Dosmit and the rest of the shoal that had bothered to surface, then the Finnfish were gone.
Back at the Stair, to Rey’s surprise, she found Luke poking at the portable databank that she had cobbled out of the Falcon and hooked up to some solar cells and a battery, so as not to deplete the Falcon’s fuel cells for non-essential purposes. He glanced up at her as she made landing and hopped off the speeder, his expression as blank as before. Chewie and R2-D2 were nowhere to be seen, though Rey heard a faint clanking from within the Falcon.
“You named this planet ‘Too Much Damned Water’,” Luke said quietly, more words than she’d heard out of him all week. Grizzled and unshaven, Luke was still dressed in the same clothes that Rey had found him in, the hooded gray cloak and robes. Luke had a little modded hyperdrive-equipped A-Wing hidden in the lee of the Stair, and normally, Rey would have circled around to stow the speeder back into its tiny hullspace.
“Uh,” Rey blushed. “I had to log something in the ship’s log. If there’s an official name I can change it,” she added defensively.
“There was a… disturbance in the Force,” Luke didn’t seem to hear her, though he narrowed his eyes slightly. “Just a short while ago.”
“I didn’t feel anything,” Rey said self-consciously, wondering if this was a test. Her hand clenched reflexively tight over Dosmit’s present, and Luke’s gaze flicked down to her fingers.
Some fish gave me a present, Rey nearly said, but swallowed the words hurriedly. Luke might be out of his mind from grief and despair but Rey found that she didn’t want to seem like a crazy person in front of him. Or worse: like a dumb kid. “Nothing,” she mumbled, but Luke held out his synthetic hand, and in a burst of recklessness, instead of walking over to hand it to him, she tossed it into the grass, to Luke’s right.
Rey was hoping to see Luke use the Force to pull it to him, but wordlessly, he stepped over, bending to pick it up instead. Turning his back on Rey, Luke put the triangle of metal close to the glow from the databank screens, studying it quietly, for so long that Rey started to fidget awkwardly, wondering if she was excused.
Finally, Luke said, just as quietly, “Where did you find this?”
“Why do you care?” Rey asked mulishly.
“It’s a fragment of a greater text. An older one. A script that I’ve only seen parts of before, in the Republic archives. Part of the information trove that eventually pointed me here.”
“Really?” Rey blinked. “Some fish gave it to me,” she confessed, before she could help herself, then grit her teeth as Luke turned to stare at her. “It’s true,” Rey said defiantly.
“Which fish?” Luke asked, so very seriously, as though he talked to fish every day of his life.
“The Finnfish,” Rey said, before she remembered that she had been the one to name them, then she added quickly, “The big silver ones, as long as Chewie. They swim in groups of six.” Stumbling awkwardly over her own words, Rey explained the afternoon meeting with Dosmit and its shoal, and what she had done, and how Dosmit had caught up with her later with the shard. At the end of it, Luke stared up at the sky thoughtfully, until the sun had banked out of sight, and the stars winked in, barely visible behind the clouds. And then he began to chuckle, hoarsely, in low, uneven gasps, rubbing a palm over his face.
“Of course,” Luke murmured. “Of course.”
“Um,” Rey ventured cautiously, wondering if this was the start of some sort of fit, or worse. “Maybe you should sit down, uh, sir.”
“Head out with me tomorrow with the speeder,” Luke told her distractedly. “Show me these fish of yours.”
Days ago, Rey would have jumped gladly at the chance, happy for any sort of change at all, any hint that the great Luke Skywalker was still there, in this weird old hermit. Today, however, she was still disoriented and defiant, and so what Rey said instead was, “Only if you agree to teach me.”
Luke stared at her, as though in mild surprise, for a long moment, as though Rey hadn’t been pestering him about this all this time. Finally, he turned his face away. “I’m no teacher, child. Not any longer.”
Child. Rey grit her teeth. “You’re the only one left who could teach me anything at all. It’s either you, or your nephew,” Rey snapped, and regretted her words instantly when Luke flinched. “Sorry,” Rey added quickly, gentling her tone.
“No, I…” Luke sighed. “I’m not the last Jedi,” he said finally. “There are no more Jedi. Not even me.”
“But you’ve got something to teach me,” Rey said stubbornly. “You learned from Master Yoda. From the best. You helped bring balance to the Force.”
“I got my father killed,” Luke said softly. “And then, at the end, I couldn’t even teach my nephew. I couldn’t reach him. And so he destroyed all that I tried to build and tore the two people I loved most apart.”
“How’s all of that your fault? Everyone makes their own choices. Last I saw, Kylo was damned well old enough for that.” Rey folded her arms tightly over her chest, setting her jaw. “You want to cut a deal or not?”
Luke studied her again, as though in a new light, then he said, in an oddly different voice. “Who did you say were your parents again?”
“I didn’t. I don’t know who my parents are. They dumped me on Jakku and never came back.” Saying that out loud now, under the night sky in an alien world of impossible seas - somehow, that made everything far less bitter.
“Jakku…” Luke trailed off, then he rubbed a palm over his face again, as though trying to remember something. After a long moment, he exhaled. “All right. I’ll teach you. Or try to. What was your name again?”
“Rey,” Rey said quickly, swallowing her instinctive exasperation. It had been two months. “Do you want your ‘saber back?” she added conscientiously. It was still in her pack.
“… No,” Luke said thoughtfully, casting his haunted stare back over the ocean. “Not yet.”
Star’s Reach was a planet near the boundaries of the Corporate Sector, and as such, on the outside, was an icy rock with a surface well below subzero, any water long frozen solid up top. The actual ‘prison’, however, was underground, and well-heated, and but for the jumpsuits, was probably more comfortable than most of the dives that Han was used to, whenever he was unlucky enough to have to spend time planetside.
Replicator meals three times a day - pretty good meals too, none of that mushy protein gruel that was the rations Han had eaten whenever he’d been unlucky enough to get arrested in other galactic jurisdictions. Light prison labour in the form of helping out, in Han’s case, in the prison’s mech shop, fixing whatever needed to be fixing, for maybe a few hours after breakfast then a few hours after lunch. He had an hour for exercise in the prison gym, and then time for clean up, have dinner, then all the time after that was free and easy until light’s out.
The other prisoners Han met were mostly humans, and all of them harmless, here for actual minor offences. Most seemed just embarrassed about being here at all, and the atmosphere, to Han’s surprise, was actually a little convivial. Friendly, even. There weren’t many guards that Han could make out, only ‘droids, and the few Espos that he saw weren’t armed to the teeth like what Han was used to, whenever he’d had the bad luck to tangle with Corporate Sector Authority, and all of them seemed old and slow. Maybe this was where they sent security officers whenever it was time for them to be let out to pasture.
On the other hand, this also meant that all the Espos here were vets. Just not the sort of veterans smart enough to make it into high command, maybe. Hopefully.
Star’s Reach had a library available for prisoner use, but the computer banks weren’t helpful, even when Han surreptitiously spliced the top-level security. He still couldn’t figure out who in the galaxy had checked him in here, and Warden Reach had been unresponsive now that Han had been booted out into general pop. The other inmates were a fat lot of help as well, which wasn’t really their fault. As Star’s Reach was underground, and the gen pop tanks were nowhere near the hangars, nobody had seen him come in, nor did any of them know anything about the bacta tanks.
Which was the first really weird thing about this cushy prison. Why the hell were there so many bacta tanks? Full of Rodians, at that? And what had Han been doing in there? Getting out wasn’t going to be as easy as finding the nearest hangar and raising the nearest ship with a stardrive, either. Han wouldn’t last a second up top with the subzero temps, and besides, although he’d found and memorised Star’s Reach’s main layout after the splice, he still hadn’t figured out a plan to bust out to the hangar. Or what sort of reception he’d have to expect.
The second weird thing about the cushy prison was the huge female Trianii prisoner. How had she gotten a Citizen ID? Didn’t Trianii usually keep to themselves? Hell, they hadn’t even bothered to join the New Republic - or anyone. And she was even bigger than Atuarre, the Trianii Han had met years upon years ago, back when he’d still been young and stupid enough to mess around the Corporate Sector. This female Trianii had thick silver fur, mottled with dark patches, and black cone-tipped feline ears, with a flat muzzle and a jaw full of sharp teeth. She wore, rather surprisingly, a jumpsuit, given that her kind usually preferred to just wear a utility belt at very best, and her prehensile, furry tail uncurled out of a flap at her lower back, twitching and tipping from side to side.
Today, at lunch, Han had been minding his own business, sitting quietly in a corner of the prison cantina, when the female Trianii abruptly sat down at his table. “Maukeen,” she pointed at herself with one of her large paw-hands, then added, in surprisingly smooth Basic, “You are new.”
“So are you,” Han shot back. “I’m Miles Bird.”
“Oh?” Maukeen’s ears twitched forward, then back. “How did you know that I am new?”
“The way everyone else tries to skip out of your way whenever you get close,” Han said dryly. “Don’t see a lot of Trianii around these parts. They haven’t been around you long enough to get used to you.”
“Hrr,” Maukeen sniffed. “I hear you were asking about the Bacta tanks,” she added, more quietly.
“Just curious,” Han noted warily, wondering now where this was going.
“Tell me,” Maukeen leaned forward a little. “When you woke up in there. What did you see?”
“Lotsa Rodians,” Han said, after a pause, deciding there was no harm being helpful when he’d already said as much to a couple of the others, when sniffing around. “Maybe three or four humans. Didn’t get a good look, really. Kinda got knocked about my tank.”
“Did you see a Togruta female?”
“Nope. Just lots of Rodians. Mind you,” Han added, when Maukeen visibly deflated. “I told you I didn’t get a good look, ‘specially not the tubes on my side of the wall. Why? You know what the tubes are for? Maybe I could help.”
Han had pushed too hard - Maukeen narrowed her slit-green eyes warily, then she sniffed again, and got up from the table. “Thank you for your help,” she said curtly, and left, padding out of the cantina without even bothering to get her lunch ration. Han watched the Trianii go, surprised, then he ate a few hasty bites of his reconstituted sandwich and got up, swiping his mouth clean with the back of his palm. As he snuck off quietly after Maukeen, Han told himself that he wasn’t looking for trouble, not really. He just hated mysteries. That’s all.
And besides. Cushy life or not, Han always got so bored whenever he was stuck down a gravity well.
Kylo Ren watched the orderly ranks of stormtroopers at work, sorting prisoners, establishing a defensive perimeter around the mining station. The air was barely breathable, with some trace element that left an acrid taste to the mouth even through his helm, and Kylo could not wait to get off this gray rock and raise ship back to Sovereign.
He didn’t bother turning when he heard a faint step behind him. A quick skim of the minds around had already identified the man behind him anyway. “General Hux,” Kylo said aloud, sardonic. “Surveying the aftermath personally, I see.” Kylo and the Knights of Ren had been the ones to lead the spearhead on the station, after all, and two of his lieutenants could still be picked out from the ranks of white-armoured stormtroopers from up here, occasionally barking commands.
Hux grimaced, folding his hands behind his back, shoulders stiffly drawn up in attention, jaw set into a thin, angry line. Somewhere under all that malice was a handsome man, with an elegant nose and graceful cheekbones, but ambition had long recast General Hux along crueller lines. When he spoke, his tone was curt, pitched low. “You know that the Supreme Leader is watching us both closely. Even you. And remember the Rule of Two.” Hux’s mouth twitched up at the edges, like an animal baring its teeth. “There’s another Force-Sensitive child out there now. Stronger than you.”
Kylo’s hands twitched by his sides, but he forced his temper down, tempting as it was to force-push Hux in a neat arc into the nearest chemical fire. As much as he didn’t like it, Hux was right. The moment Snoke had expressed an interest in meeting the scavenger girl, Kylo had sensed a precipice yawning open, under his feet. Pedigree clearly wasn’t everything.
The girl. She was only a Jakku scavver. While Kylo was descended from Darth Vader himself. Still, despite having spent the painful past recovery months going over every possible detail of his mistakes with a fine-toothed comb, Kylo still couldn’t figure out why he had lost a ‘saber duel against someone totally new to the Force. Two months on, and failure still tasted so sharply bitter.
“The Supreme Leader has his uses for us yet,” was all Kylo said in response.
Hux nodded slowly, glancing out over at the mining station. “Only four casualties, twelve injured, mostly minor, to turret fire,” he said finally. “Not bad.”
Surprised, Kylo was glad that his mask hid any emotion while he was silent. “Had my Knights been with me before, matters may have turned out differently.”
“This moon is still rich in rhydonium, and the jacks were undamaged,” Hux continued. “We should be able to set up our own mining operations immediately. Once we shunt off all independent fuel-mine stations to First Order control, we can start incursions against independent shipyards. Even with the core New Republic worlds destroyed, it still has a larger fleet overall than we do.”
“I know all this,” Kylo said impatiently. What had remained of the Galactic Empire had been in a state of bankruptcy thanks to the destruction of the extremely costly Death Stars and the heavy losses suffered during the war; the First Order itself was not flush with creds. Without its mining planets, the First Order would be struggling to maintain its armies and fleets.
“The New Republic fleet has begun skirmishing along our borders,” Hux added, his tone going clipped. “But our orders were to keep targeting these little fuel-mine planets, instead of joining the First Order’s counterattack response.”
Inside his helm, Kylo sneered, ignoring the pain that sparked from twisting his face. “The Supreme Leader has several Generals.”
“But only one apprentice. Apparently. And you are here, not with the fleet.”
Kylo glanced at Hux, but Hux narrowed his eyes, refusing to be intimidated. That was something that was curious about the General, at least. He wasn’t force-sensitive at all. But he also wasn’t afraid of Kylo. Stupidity, perhaps, or far too much self-importance. Kylo hadn’t been lying when he’d pointed out that Snoke had a handful of talented Generals to choose from, some of them even veterans from the Galactic Empire. If Kylo chose at this point to toss Hux into a fire and watch him burn, Kylo knew that Snoke would be displeased, but the repercussions would be minor at best.
“We are here on orders,” Kylo said at last.
“I think you should be careful that he isn’t preparing to replace you, Commander.”
“Should he intend to,” Kylo retorted evenly. “That is his prerogative.”
Hux spat out a laugh. “Curious. Where is the boy who would destroy equipment whenever matters didn’t quite go his way?”
“Undergoing further training,” Kylo shot back, though that wasn’t particularly true. For all of Supreme Leader Snoke’s words about ‘completing his training’, Kylo hadn’t actually done very much new training at all. Once he had been deemed fit for the field, Snoke had promptly sent him and Hux out to annex fuel-worlds. This moon was their third.
If Supreme Leader Snoke intended to replace Kylo, though, why would he specifically instruct Hux to save him? That made little sense. Why hadn’t Kylo been set back on Luke Skywalker’s trail? The Falcon had been swept clean of ship tracers, but the First Order still knew approximately where it had gone to: and more importantly, the Resistance knew where it was. The Resistance had taken heavy losses attacking Starkiller base. With its diminished fleet, and with the New Republic engaging the First Order in border skirmishes, destroying D’Qar would simply be a matter of jumping a Star Destroyer into orbit, getting rid of the Resistance’s crippled fleet, and dropping rocks down the gravity well. They could get rid of the Resistance and salvage their databanks. As to his mother-
“We’re wasting time here,” Hux said softly. “When we could be pressing our advantage against the Resistance.”
“The Resistance are pests,” Kylo retorted, irked that Hux had jumped straight to the same train of thought. “And like pests, you destroy one burrow and they’ll simply reappear in another. No doubt the Supreme Leader has his reasons for his current strategy.”
Hux shook his head. “I’m trying to tell you-“
“Don’t overstep yourself. General.” Kylo warned flatly. “Not while you still have anything to lose.”
Hux clenched his hands, his jaw growing tight, again with that curious defiance, rather than fear. When they raised ship in Kylo’s shuttle, heading back to the Relentless, the Imperial-III frigate that had been transferred into Hux’s command. The Finalizer had been handed to General Shyrn, and had jumped under her command to the border skirmishes. Hux had fumed visibly when command of the First Order’s flagship had changed hands, but Kylo had said nothing. He hadn’t particularly cared. The only matter that burned in his mind was his failure.
Losing to a scav.
Aboard the bridge of the Relentless, the lieutenant left in command saluted smartly, and stepped away from the Captain’s console. “Captain has the bridge,” the lieutenant announced briskly, and saluted again. “Lord Kylo, you have an encrypted comm from the Supreme Leader. It’s been forwarded to your cabin.”
Kylo nodded, turning to head off the Bridge, and caught Hux’s wary stare for a moment. He chose to look away, ignoring it, striding briskly out, re-acclimatising to the cold, sterile constant temperature aboard the Relentless, the faint plastic smell of its recycled air. As much as it annoyed him sometimes to think about it, Kylo was the true son of Han Solo: aboard a starship, breathing in ‘cycled air, he felt at home.
The rest of his Knights had returned from planetside, and were present as Kylo entered the aft deck quarters that they had commandeered, still dressed in their short black robes and boots. With Ryuri and Karnaxx still planetside, Kosche and Zuren attached to General Shryn and the skirmish fleet, that left the Vonoris twins. Rekka had his vibrocleaver slanted against a workbench, glancing up from where he was tooling it, his unshaven jaw loosening into a sharp grin as he recognised Kylo, helmet set aside carelessly on a chair. Like her brother Rekka, Qara had shaved her head, tattooing it with intricate circular scar tissue, and her helmet was in her lap, her staff across her knees, sitting cross-legged in meditation close to the aft viewport. She looked up as Kylo headed straight for the holodeck at the centre of the shared rec chamber, but said nothing, her gray eyes blank and incurious.
“We cleaning up planetside?” Rekka asked, in his Outer Rim drawl. The Vonoris Twins had originally led the Knights of Ren until Snoke had passed command to Kylo, and although Qara hadn’t seemed to care in the least, sometimes Rekka toed the edges of insubordination.
“Ryuri and Karnaxx are.” Briefly, Kylo considered accessing Snoke’s message from his cabin, but he quickly discarded the thought. The Knights were his personal command, and as unruly as the Twins could be, they’d proven their worth to him over the years.
Qara rose gracefully to her feet as Kylo passed voice and DNA print to access Snoke’s comm pack, narrowing her eyes slightly as Snoke’s hologram appeared, looming over the deck. “Why not send a tightbeam linkup for a direct chat?” Rekka wondered out aloud, but fell silent when Kylo held up a palm.
The reason became immediately obvious the moment ‘Snoke’ started to speak - it wasn’t Snoke at all, but Kosche, with her exacting Coruscant accent. She spoke in a low, hurried tone, as though whispering into handheld recpod. “Lord Kylo,” Kosche murmured. “Apologies for the ruse… I haven’t much time. Supreme Leader Snoke sent through a band of coordinates to Shryn an hour ago. Location in the Outer Rim, supposedly uninhabited. Falls within the sector of blank space which was missing from the Skywalker coordinates. Zuren distracted Shryn while I intercepted the chatter. I’ve enclosed the coordinates for your reference. Please advise further. Kosche out.”
The image of Snoke flickered and grew still, even as Kylo sucked in a soft breath, clenching his hands over the holodeck. Before he could speak, Rekka whistled. “Tightening the net over Skywalker.”
“What’s Shryn to do?” Qara added quietly, if dispassionately. “She can’t take on a Jedi.”
“Could drop rocks down the gravity well,” Rekka pointed out blandly.
“Assuming they even find him. They’ll have to make planetfall to find out.”
“Could drop rocks down all planetary gravity wells in that band of coords.”
“This could be a test of loyalty,” Kylo said out aloud. “The Supreme Leader did not send us the coordinates.”
“Or a test of resolve,” Rekka said, always the one thirstier for blood. “Isn’t this personal for you… sir?”
Careful that he isn’t preparing to replace you. Kylo clenched his fists tightly. “Rekka, encode a response. Tell Kosche to release the message to Shryn - but keep us updated of Shryn’s response: if any. I think it is suspicious how the coordinates did not come with further instructions to act,” Kylo added sharply, when Rekka frowned.
“True,” Qara decided.
“Understood.” Rekka said, still reluctant.
“In the meantime,” Kylo decided grimly, “I’m going to have a word with the General.” Like it or not, it seemed clear now that Snoke no longer trusted either of them. Alliances had been born out of far less desperate straits.
Poe nodded absently, still looking at the holodeck. “Some of our agents managed to deflect a tightbeam relay from Coriolis.”
“Coriolis!” Finn hissed, automatically lowering his voice. “That’s the First Order’s capital planet! You guys been tapping into their comms? They might do a trace and…” He trailed off awkwardly. Well. It wasn’t like the First Order didn’t know where this Resistance base was.
“Exactly,” Poe said, with a warm, faintly amused grin. “They already know that we’re here.”
“Thought you couldn’t deflect tightbeam relays,” Finn muttered.
“You can - but it’s very difficult, and needs you to position something right in the line of fire, as it were. We’ve had pirate blockades standing between the First City and the Finalizer for a while, adjusting for planetary rotation. Helps that the Finalizer hasn’t budged for weeks. Caught up in a border skirmish with the New Republic-“
Poe cut himself off as the chatter around General Organa abruptly died down. “All right, everyone,” the General said briskly. “As some of you may already know, we intercepted a tightbeam comm from the First City to the Finalizer. It contained a band of coordinates that considerably narrow down the area that the First Order will have to search in order to find Luke. It also contained a search and kill order, one that we’ve scrubbed. If they look closely, it’ll seem like the tail end of the transmission got corrupted and auto-deleted.”
“Why didn’t we just feed them a new set of coordinates?” Finn whispered to Poe, then he stiffened and nearly backed up a step as he realized he’d accidentally caught General Organa’s attention: she must’ve heard him.
“We couldn’t amend the coordinates,” the General added dryly, “Because that would alert the First Order to our pirate blockades, and because I don’t want to confirm or deny that their coordinates are correct, in case Snoke sent out the band as bait.”
Ooh. The General had him there. “How’d they find the coordinates?” asked C3P0, worried. “Oh dear! Master Luke and R2-D2 might be in danger! And the others.”
“Quite likely? By tracing every ping that we sent to the Falcon and extrapolating a general field off our encryption,” Organa said wearily. “I’ll institute a general review of our comm strategy. But whatever it was, we’re going to have to send word to Luke and Rey. And find out why there’s been such a long period of silence from the Falcon.”
“However,” she added, “Given it’s entirely possible that the First Order has ship traces on our fleet, and given the necessity for stealth, we will not be using one of our fleet. Nor will the mission be raising ship directly from D’Qar. Instead, I intend to send Poe Dameron to Moft II on our next scheduled supply run, where he will charter a clean starship from a friend of the Resistance.”
“I’ll find them, General,” Poe assured her.
“Of that I have no doubt.” Organa smiled over at Poe, but she couldn’t quite hide the worry in her eyes.
Finn was close on Poe’s heels when they left the debrief, though he managed to wait until they were in a quieter corridor before rounding on him. “Before you start, okay, I know this is meant to be a Super Secret mission, but I can totally handle Super Secret missions, I was on Starkiller base with Solo and-“
“Yes, you can tag along,” Poe interrupted, clearly amused all over again. “I need a gunner, don’t I?”
“Aww hell yeah!” Finn whooped. “I mean. Sure you need a gunner. And that’s what I am. A great gunner. Beginner’s luck and everything.”
Poe patted Finn’s shoulder, grinning at his enthusiasm. “Well, we’ve already proved that we make a pretty good team.”
“We’re the best team. We’ll find Rey and Luke in no time.”
At the mention of Rey and Luke, Poe’s smile faded. “Finn,” he said cautiously. “Whatever might have happened that made them go dark for two months-“
Finn stubbornly set his jaw. “Whatever, nothing. She’s fine, I know it. I mean. Rey kicked Kylo’s ass. She’s got Luke Skywalker with her. And maybe you don’t like me talking about him or whatever it is-“
“Wait,” Poe cut in, blinking. “I don’t like you talking about Skywalker?”
“Hey, everything I so much as mention him and Rey you start frowning like something just died.” Finn pointedly mimed Poe’s straight-backed, arms-crossed, The-Stormtrooper-Just-Put-His-Foot-In-It-Again look. “I just wanna say,” Finn added hurriedly, as Poe stared at him in open bemusement, “That don’t worry, all right? They’re gonna be fine. It’s probably just some Super Secret Jedi Training. They’ll be back, they haven’t forgotten about us. Maybe they just uh, lost track of the time.”
“I don’t…” Poe trailed off, then he exhaled, and smiled a weird, strained little smile. “Nevermind. We raise ship tomorrow, same time. We’re going to do the supply jump to Moft II as usual, just in case anyone might be keeping track. So. See you aboard.”
“Yeah. See you there.” Finn said quickly, in case Poe got into one of his strange moods or something and decided that Finn couldn’t come along after all. Poe nodded briskly and headed quickly down the corridor, turning out of sight, and Finn only realized that BB-8 hadn’t followed when he felt a polite nudge against his leg, and heard a soft series of beeps.
“What?” Finn whispered down at the ‘droid. “I don’t speak ‘droid, remember?”
BB-8 swerved back, tilting up, as though eyeing Finn over, trying another set of beeps. “I told you,” Finn said carefully. “Me. No. Speak. ‘Droid.”
This time, the beeps were a little more frustrated, with BB-8 rolling to its left, then to its right, but when Finn shrugged, it let out a long, whistling beep, as though in resignation, and trundled off after its master. The hell was that about?
And. Was Finn expected to pack? Should he pack a blaster? What about spare clothes? Supplies? In the First Order, logistics had always been someone else’s problem, and everyone else moved along sharply defined linear schedules. Now, Finn was abruptly and painfully aware that he had no idea what protocol in the Resistance was. Should he ask the General? No, she was probably too busy for a trivial question like this. Poe? Poe seemed to be in one of his weird moods, and Finn didn’t want to risk pissing him off and getting booted out of the mission. Jess? Or would that get him kicked off the mission by default? After all, General Organa hadn’t mentioned sending anyone else.
Finn started towards his quarters, hesitated, backtracked down the corridor in the direction of the Resistance quartermaster, hesitated again, then he sighed, frustrated. Sometimes it felt like General Hux was speaking the truth after all. Life outside the First Order was sheer bloody chaos.
Rocks down gravity wells: from Corey’s Leviathan Wakes - you don’t really need nukes to devastate a planet, you just need to drop really large rocks
It was clear that Maukeen had been incarcerated in Star’s Reach long enough to be aware of patrol patterns: she ducked smoothly into servo rooms, or around corners, and once even let herself quietly into a cargo lift, confident that no one was going to access it right at that point. As to Han, he was left scrambling for cover the moment Maukeen ducked away somewhere.
This was a good sign. Most of the patrols they encountered were ‘droids, which clearly weren’t fitted with top-of-the-line sensors. Getting around them was just a matter of avoiding them. The few humans they encountered further out were bored old-timers, once they were past the inner prison ring and into an outer, clinically white section that felt like an administration block. Maukeen hadn’t eaten lunch because she was using her lunch break to do her scouting. In other words, the guards didn’t bother to keep tabs on the inmates during lunch hour. Maybe dinner, too. Talk about lax.
They were exiting the admin block into a more heavily patrolled area when Han finally lost track of Maukeen. Somehow, for such a huge person, in between Han crawling hastily into an air vent to let a patrol ‘droid pass and coming out again, he’d lost sight of her. Cautiously, Han peered around the corner. He was at a service door, leading to a vent as well as into a neatly packed storage space. To his right the windowless corridor widened out to a cargo lift and a set of emergency stairs that led back to the admin block. To his left, the corridor seemed to stretch unbroken, until it eventually curved out of sight. No cover.
Swallowing hard, Han looked around, then he ducked back into the storage space, grabbing a bucket and a filter mop. He poured enough bleach-sol into the bucket for verisimilitude, then he started walking briskly down the corridor, keeping his shoulders slumped a little, eyes fixed on the ground. He’d made it almost to the bend of the corridor when a side door slid open with a pneumatic hiss, and a huge paw-hand grabbed his shoulder and hauled him through.
Maukeen had her paw-hand clenched around Han’s neck the moment the door closed, her retractable claws digging lightly into his skin. This close, the teeth in her jaws, lips drawn up, were very sharp. “Talk,” she growled.
“Just taking a walk… yeoww hey hey,” Han wheezed, as Maukeen tightened her grip. “Okay, okay! I thought you might know a way out of here, all right?”
Maukeen glared at him for a long moment, then, reluctantly, she let him go, allowing Han to gingerly touch his throat, checking for blood. They were in a bathroom that also had a cleanser, and Maukeen flicked the lock to Occupied, her tail lashing slowly back and forth. “I do know a way out of here,” she said finally. “But I’m not here to escape. I’m here to find someone.”
“You made that pretty obvious the first time,” Han said dryly. “You’re a Ranger, right?” At Maukeen’s bared teeth, Han hastily held up his hands. “Whoah. I’ve met Trianii before. And all of you outside your slice of the galaxy have all been Rangers.”
“You’ve met Trianii before?” Maukeen looked openly disbelieving. “Which?”
“Well uh. It’s been years. But I once shipped with Atuarre-“
“Teacher Atuarre?” Maukeen sneered. “When?”
“Helped her and her little tyke Pakku bust her mate Keeheen outta Star’s End,” Han said evenly, hands still upraised. “Was a near thing, too. Got pretty hairy at the end. Probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. Hey,” he added, as an afterthought. “Did Pakku ever get better again? Start talking? Pretty sad what happened to that cub.”
“Yes, he… You?” Maukeen stared at him for a long, startled moment, then she looked him thoughtfully up and down, as if in a new light. “You’re Han Solo?”
“What are you doing in here?” Maukeen asked, surprised. “On a mission for the Resistance?”
Han considered lying, but maybe death had put things in perspective, and what he ended up saying was, “Not really. I got stabbed in Starkiller base and woke up here. Didn’t think I would wake up at all. Don’t know who put me here, or who went to all the trouble of forging me a Citizen ID.”
“Hrr.” Maukeen blinked. “Starkiller base was destroyed. Two months ago.”
“It… it was?” Han wasn’t prepared for the rush of relief that he felt. “What about - are you from the Resistance? Have you heard-“
“I am not Resistance. Something else. Similar.” Maukeen made a cutting, dismissive gesture, very spacer - people used to the sky life tended to speak in part gesture, part words, accustomed to vacuum suits and the nothingness of space. “All we heard was that Starkiller base managed to destroy the planets in the Hosnian System. The Senate has been murdered, along with the billions of people living on those planets. In retaliation, the Resistance destroyed Starkiller base. That is where things stand. The remaining New Republic fleet has engaged the First Order on border systems. But the New Republic itself is in disarray. An emergency Senate has been elected from the ashes, but it is mostly military. General Organa was asked to head it, but she refused.”
“Refused, huh?” Han blinked. “I’ve never been able to figure out how or why she did things.” But at least Leia was alive. That meant… hopefully… everyone else too… “Thank you,” Han said finally. “You don’t know how damned hard it’s been to get information out of anything else here. No news on the closed HoloNet, and the others have as much curiosity as a bloody bantha.”
Maukeen visibly softened. “Then I am glad we have spoken. General Organa is your mate, is she not? It must have been difficult not having news.”
“Well,” Han coughed. “She was, I guess. Kinda. Long time back.” Leia had moved on: he had seen that much. When Ben had done what he had done, Han had run for it, for the stars. He’d tried to simplify his life down to all that he’d done before, when he was younger and hadn’t been beholden to anything. As to Leia, she had narrowed her own life down as well, but to the Resistance - and to her hope that their son could be saved.
The Resistance had lost a lot of its already laughably tiny fleet trying to destroy Starkiller base. As to their son-
“All right,” Maukeen said firmly. “If you are Han Solo then I think we can help each other. I am not a good pilot. You are. There is a hangar on Star’s Reach where the Espos have several interceptors, maybe even a quadjumper. I know how to get to the hangar. However.”
“Yeah. Your Togruta friend.”
“Not just her.” Maukeen hesitated. “You said you saw many Rodians. How many?”
“I don’t know? Ten? Twenty max? Couple of Twi’leks? Didn’t get that great a view. Like I said, I was being knocked around.”
“Several months ago,” Maukeen noted, frowning, “Our forward base on the mining planet of Pasir IV was attacked by the First Order. It had been mainly manned by Rodians. All of them disappeared. We presumed that they had been killed and cremated… or that they had been sold into slavery in the First Order.”
“Huh. Well. If I ended up here, and if your Togruta friend is here, and assuming the Rodians are the same… what the hell, is the Corporate Sector starting up some kinda Resistance collection? Stick us all in this cushy tank, see how we tick? Surely they’ve rebuilt a place like Star’s End by now. Why aren’t we stuck there? Or killed outright?” That didn’t add up. The Espos were plenty ruthless if they had to be.
Either way, it wasn’t a good sign. Even if the Resistance was being treated humanely over here in Star’s Reach, if the creds-rich Corporate Sector had just decided to stop being independent and ally itself with the First Order… their combined fleet and resources could probably overwhelm what was left of the New Republic.
Maukeen grunted. “I do not care. The Rangers are allied with Fulcrum. That is why I am here. We heard information that she - my ‘Togruta friend’ - had been captured by the First Order, and we traced DNA logs through encrypted chatter here. Atuarre arranged for a Citizen ID to be made through her contacts, and for me to be ‘processed’ into this facility.”
Fulcrum. Han had heard that name before somewhere, vaguely. “So we have to get into that tank room.”
“Tank control room,” Maukeen corrected. “If she is sedated in a Bacta tank then she may be healing from some grave injury. After all, they decanted you when you woke up, did they not? So. We check. Then we shoot.”
“This is really not how I like to do things,” Han complained, though he grinned as he said it.
Coaxing the Finnfish shoals to deposit their finds next to the deep bank to the lee of the Stair meant that Rey didn’t have to ride the speeder out over the waves to meet them, or juggle finds from her new friends. Originally, Rey had been glad of this. More training, less fish-herding!
She should’ve known that wasn’t the case at all. For the most part, instead of practicing her use of the Force, or training her in lightsaber use, Luke simply had her meditate. Once, when Rey had actually fallen asleep and tipped over and had only woken up afterwards, when R2-D2 had beeped beside her in concern, Luke hadn’t even noticed. Days on, this ‘meditation’ training had gone from curious to tiresome to plain exasperating.
“If you don’t actually want to teach me at all,” Rey growled at Luke during dinner of yet more fish stew, “Then just tell me!”
Luke didn’t look up at her, absorbed in studying the fragments of the day’s find: more random shards, one broken scroll casing, its contents long-rotted, and pieces of a computer databank, waterlogged and useless. Trying to teach the Finnfish how to be discerning had turned out to be considerably difficult.
“I told you,” Luke said absently. “I’m no teacher.”
“You set up a school once!”
“And look what became of it.”
“That wasn’t your fault,” Rey said, already frustrated.
“But it was,” Luke said softly. “Ben was so young then. I should have known. The Force runs so strongly in my family. Both the Light… and the Dark. I feel the pull of both sides. As you would,” he added quietly, when Rey opened her mouth. “Fear, anger, hatred… envy, hunger, despair, all these lead to the dark side. So I was once taught. But to be sentient is to know fear, to know anger, hatred, despair, all of those things. To be sentient is to know and balance both Light and Dark. To be the ocean, always, to eschew desire and emotion…” Luke shook his head slowly, wearily. “It is not possible to be the ocean.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You think that you, and I, and Yoda, and the Jedi before me… belonged to the Light, while people like Ben, Vader and the Sith belonged to the Dark. The truth is,” Luke said pensively. “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. But at the same time, the act of lighting a candle casts a shadow.”
Rey stared at Luke unhappily. On one hand, she was glad that Luke was finally starting to talk to her. To someone. On the other hand, he was making even less sense than he was before. She looked hopefully across the bank of sand to Chewbacca, who was pointedly tinkering with the external databanks, but the Wookie shrugged, and let out a mournful hoot.
“So you’re telling me that I should… give up?” Rey asked, annoyed.
“For those of us who are extremely Force-sensitive,” Luke carefully set down one of the fragments he was studying by the batt-powered lights, and picked up another, “It is not so easy as ‘choosing’ to be a Jedi. I know that now. The Light pulls as strongly as the Dark. And by ignoring one or the other… rather than coming to terms with both… that is not the way.”
“Then what is the way?”
“I don’t know yet. That’s what I’ve been thinking about, all this time.”
“General Organa is Force-sensitive too, isn’t she?”
Luke’s mouth quirked into a wry smile. “Palpatine, Maul, Vader, Ben… so many of the Sith Lords have been male. You may have a point.”
“That wasn’t my point,” Rey said, irked. “I meant, your sister. She turned out great. She’s amazing.”
“That she is,” Luke agreed softly. “But she doesn’t use the Force. Whether it’s because she consciously chooses not to use it or something else… I’m not sure. But that’s the other way to balance Light and Dark,” Luke added. “To use neither. To walk away from it all.”
“And that’s what you’ve done?”
“I tried to,” Luke said wryly, and this time he glanced up at Rey, over his shoulder. “But the past always has a way of catching up with you.”
“So the meditation,” Rey pointedly changed the subject. “It’s actually leading somewhere?”
“You imagine the ocean as a way of calming your mind,” Luke said mildly. “A Jedi would wear that calm constantly, without even being conscious of it.”
“But you just said that you don’t think that the Jedi way is the right way,” Rey pointed out, bewildered.
“I don’t think so any longer,” Luke corrected. “But it’s traditional, so you might as well learn the basics before you join me in my existential crisis.” Rey giggled before she swallowed her laughter, abashed, but Luke didn’t even crack a smile, going back to poking at the fragments.
Learning to deflect blaster fire with the lightsaber was fun, at least. Not that Luke had been the one to suggest that she learn it. Chewbacca had dug up some sort of old training floater unit in the Falcon, one that shot tiny blasts that stung instead of burning, and whenever Rey got tired of meditating, she rigged it up higher on the Stair and trained her reflexes. It was something to do, at least.
“Why don’t we just pilot the Falcon underwater? Or your A-Wing?” Rey asked one lunchtime. “Starships are airtight, right? If it works in space won’t it work underwater?”
Chewbacca instantly made a series of defensive yowls from his side of the campsite, occasionally interrupted by beeps and whistles from R2-D2. “Not possible,” Luke said, and Chewbacca gestured frantically at the Falcon, then back at the water, growling and snuffling.
Rey blushed, but added, “But if the temple’s underwater, then what do we do? I guess Chewie and I can jump the Falcon back to D’Qar, see if they have anything that can go down there? We’re wasting time relying on the Finnfish, aren’t we?”
“Not at all,” Luke said mildly, as though surprised that she had even raised such a point, and Rey gave up.
She wasn’t sure whether to send General Organa an update, now that there was some progress. After all, it had been months - everyone was probably plenty concerned by now, weren’t they? In the end, Rey caved and sent off a quick message with Chewbacca’s help, encrypted along similar lines. Found Luke. Began training. Still investigating the Temple. All of which was technically true: and hopefully would make the General and the others less worried about what had happened.
Next morning, to Rey’s surprise, she woke up on her bunk in the Falcon to find Chewbacca moving the batteries and portable databank back aboard. He yowled and patted her back when she stared at him, gesturing out down the ramp. Rushing outside with growing excitement, Rey located Luke sitting cross-legged by the lee of the Stair, by his A-Wing. Pressed as close as they could be to the shore were both shoals of Finnfish, membranes raised out of the water. The lights within the translucent fluids brightened as Rey approached, and Luke closed his eyes, even as Leia and its shoal dropped away. Dosmit splashed its first tier of fins at Rey, as though in greeting, before also leaving.
“Something happened?” Rey asked brightly, trying not to sound too excited and probably failing.
Luke was getting slowly to his feet. On the grass, beside him, were several thin stone slabs, each as long as Rey’s wrist to elbow, that slotted together roughly to form a large picture. Within it, several humanoids of different species - some large, some small, some with strange heads, some with multiple arms or legs - seemed to be reaching for or worshipping something that emitted light, on a top tier. Below them, under their feet, knelt the same humanoids, reaching downwards, palms flat. Together, their contorted shapes formed some sort of angular, squat structure that reminded Rey uncomfortably of a simplified version of Maz’s castle.
“Strange… picture?” Rey hazarded, when Luke didn’t immediately respond.
“It’s the temple.”
“That’s it? This bit of stone?”
This, strangely, got a faint curl to Luke’s mouth, like the ghost of humour. “Look at the top left corner of the picture.”
Rey glanced down again. Above one of the shoulders of the humanoids were several indentations, little sharp-edged shapes in the stone, some larger than others. “A star pattern?”
Luke nodded, very seriously. “The temple wasn’t here after all. It’s beyond. In Wild Space. Past even the Slice. We’ll salvage the fuel cells and supplies from my A-Wing for the Falcon, but Chewbacca and R2-D2 think we’ll still have to make a supply stop at Lentor III-“
“Wild Space!” Rey whooped, excited all over again. This was more like it, when she had imagined going on adventures with Luke Skywalker. The very frontier of the galaxy itself!
Luke blinked slowly at her, for a long moment, then he actually even smiled again, thin and faint. “Help me with the speeder,” he said finally, turning for the A-Wing. “We’ll raise ship once everything is packed.”
Atuarre backstory: Han Solo Adventures Trilogy.
Apparently starships can’t go underwater: http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2012/12/11/a-scientist-explains-why-the-enterprise-cant-go-underwater
What had happened was that instead of disembarking onto Moft II, Finn and Poe had been packed into separate crates with air masks and tanks and trundled heavily onto a cargolift of some sort. Curled into his own crate, trying not to breathe too deeply into the mask, Finn tried to concentrate on shielding his head from getting whacked against the steel sides of the crate, convinced that anyone close by could hear how loudly his heart was beating. At least he got his own crate. Poe was squashed into one with BB-8. Whatever Moft II was like, the spaceport was noisy, a tidal din that was only vaguely muffled by the enclosed crate. He could hear snatches of Basic interspersed by alien dialects that Finn found completely unfamiliar, along with the occasional background roar of starship engines as they hotted off back to space or banked to land, broken up by the grinding, clanking pace of labour ‘droids shifting stock.
When Finn’s crate was finally unloaded somewhere, it was so unceremonious that he whacked his elbow heavily against the crate. Cursing under his breath and massaging his arm, he lay in the dark, glad that he wasn’t claustrophobic. If he was Zeroes, he probably would’ve freaked out and sprung the job minutes into getting packed in-
Zeroes. And Slip. The rest. Vaguely, Finn was aware that the appropriate (Resistance) emotion when confronted with the reality of the loss of his friends was grief. Some degree of sadness, even. Not calm acceptance. Two-Four had died before his eyes, even. Shot down by Poe… smearing blood across the front of Finn’s helmet, planting the first roots of doubt and fear, and a horror of war. But Finn didn’t feel angry about that - didn’t even resent Poe for the kill. He’d always learned that death was part of life as a Stormtrooper. That the ultimate end to his life would most likely be death in the service of the First Order. Death wasn’t really what Finn feared. Life in the First Order had simply taught him that there were worse fates.
Finn braced his feet and shoulders automatically when the crate’s lock was triggered, ready to kick out if something had gone wrong, but it was Poe, a hand thrust over to help him up. Gratefully, Finn clasped Poe’s hand, scrambling out of the crate. They were in a hangar of some sort, labour ‘droids packing supplies via a cargo crane into a quadjumper, its four huge turbine engines nestled against its narrow cockpit and crew chambers painted in rust orange and black, squatting over the plasteel deck on its tri-legged landing gear.
“All right in there?” Poe asked. He was wearing an unassuming spacer rig: charcoal jacket, pale gray shirt, pouches and holstered blaster. Used as Finn was to Poe in civvies, he still did look a little strange out of his orange X-Wing jumpsuit. In… a good way. With that flyboy attitude, though, Poe could probably make anything look good.
“Bumpy trip,” Finn discarded the air mask gratefully, looking the quadjumper over. “Is this it? It’s got no guns?”
“She,” Poe corrected. “Starships are she.”
“The Roci’s got no guns,” said a familiar voice near one of the rear dorsals, “But quadjumpers are a common sight in any spaceport. You could nip in and around without anyone noticing. No one’s going to notice her taking off. And I’ve made my own mods to her ion drive. She’s faster than she looks.”
“Maz,” Finn greeted the diminutive, orange-skinned alien with a relief he didn’t need to feign. “Glad you made it out all right.”
“Pft,” Maz waved his concern away with a flick of her delicate hands, her eyes amused behind her huge optical goggles. “Takes more than a little strafing run like that to get me down. Cantina’s being rebuilt. When it’s done, you’re welcome back anytime. But in the meantime, old Maz isn’t against getting her own back on the First Order in some way or other. The General mentioned she needed a loan of a clean ship, no questions asked, eyes closed.”
“That we do,” Poe agreed, circling the quadjumper slowly, studying her. “Sturdy little ship. Quad engines?”
“Yup. Very latest. Sweet little Corellian atomizer. None of those cheap fluidics.” Maz trotted over to Finn, studying him thoughtfully, glancing down at the blaster at his hip, then at the vibroblade strapped to his back.
“I’m practicing with that one,” Finn said, a little defensively.
“Decent old thing,” Maz focused her optics thoughtfully. “Cortosis weave, huh? Pretty good against lightsabers.”
“The General said I could have it.”
Maz grinned at Finn, as though amused by the edge in his tone. “Sure she did. Bringing a big knife to a blaster fight, are we?”
“Got a blaster too.” Finn patted his hip.
“Duelling with ‘sabers is the least of what it is to be a Force user, Dark or Light,” Maz said, though not unkindly.
Finn snuck a quick glance over at Poe, but Poe was on the other end of the ship with BB-8, inspecting the transparisteel viewport. “Uh Maz,” Finn lowered his voice. “I uh, wasn’t really told what else to pack, so I thought, maybe just weapons, but everything else, I wasn’t sure. And I’m kinda here as a gunner so I thought the ship would have guns. So uh-“
Maz’s grin widened, and something seemed to soften in her eyes as she ambled over to pat Finn on the hand. “I’ve got it covered. And don’t worry,” she winked. “I’m sure that one appreciates your help. Even if the ship has no guns.”
“I can be useful without guns,” Finn said, wondering if Maz was teasing him. He didn’t usually manage to parse sarcasm or teasing despite coaching.
“Never doubted it. And I’m glad that you’ve stopped running.”
“Well,” Finn tried a grin of his own, “Seems like I made it to the Outer Rim anyway.”
“She’s good,” Poe had wandered back towards them. “Thanks, Maz. We owe you one.”
“I’ll remember that,” Maz transferred her impish grin to Poe, and jerked a thumb at Finn. “Look after this one, Dameron. He’s new out here.”
“He can take care of himself,” Poe slapped Finn on the shoulder, thankfully making no issue about how he technically didn’t need Finn after all, since the Roci was unarmed. “Ready to raise ship?”
“You bet I’m ready.”
“Clear skies,” Maz said soberly, and Poe nodded at her. “Say hello to Skywalker for me. Tell him he still owes me that drink.”
BB-8 whistled in alarm as the cargo lift was used to get it aboard, and Finn climbed up the ladder into the rear hatch behind Poe, retracting it once they were both up. Past the airlock was a small crew area, packed with narrow crates of supplies, and a floor hatch had been left open by a sliver to show where the rest of the supplies were. Poe battened it down, then made his way through to the pilot seat, strapping down and starting up the turbine engines, the quadjumper waking up with a growing thrum from both sides that escalated into a low roar, the deck and seat that Finn strapped himself into vibrating as the spacetug woke up.
Like Maz had said, quadjumpers were a common sight in Moft II as they began a brisk burn out skywards, the thrust from the quad engines pressing Finn down against his seat. He peered out through the viewport eagerly anyway, as far as he could go against the straps and pressure anyway. From what Finn could make out, Moft II’s spaceport was built on a high plateau, one of several that dotted the planet’s surface, all white stone over thick, pale green cloud cover. The spaceport was mostly made of prefab domed habs sprawling out from a central planetary transfer yard, a teeming column of quadjumpers and cargo freighters small enough to make planetfall. Private hangars and warehousing sprawled outward in an untidy heap of stepped roofs plated with solar cells, and Finn could see the occasional local hopping between plateaus with little jump pods.
“Moft was a mining planet,” Poe explained, as he guided the quadjumper up through the traffic stream. “One of the first worlds settled in the Outer Rim. The Rodians used to dig up salyrium from here until they found an easier and cheaper way to make transparisteel. Nowadays it’s the best place to do a supply run, no questions asked, between this part of the Outer Rim and the Durkteel loop.”
“Sounds like you’ve been everywhere,” Finn said, envious, and Poe chuckled, glancing back over his shoulder.
“Before I was assigned to the Echo of Hope, I was mostly stuck patrolling the Mirrin sector. Since then, sure. I’ve been on a few recons. Ever thought about learning to fly an X-Wing? Could use a few more pilots.”
“Never thought about it,” Finn said, surprised.
Poe looked away, saying nothing until they were nearly clear of the planet’s atmosphere. “Only if you want to,” Poe said finally, a strange note of uncertainty in his voice.
“Well sure,” Finn said, wondering what Poe was trying to tell him now. “Sounds fun. But do we even have the ships?”
“That’s a matter for high command to sort out,” Poe sounded slightly cheered up. “If you want to see the galaxy, doing recon’s the best way to do it.”
“Sure,” Finn agreed, pleased. “If you’ll have me.”
At that, for some reason, Poe made a weird little coughing sound. “Ah. Uhm yes. ‘Course.”
“Your decision not to respond to the Supreme Leader’s tightbeam to the Finalizer seems to have been right after all,” Hux said brusquely, as Kylo glanced up at Hux from the holodeck.
“Should be a ‘my Lord’ in there somewhere,” Karnaxx said loudly, all harsh Seswenna consonants through his helm, and snorted when Kylo gave him a half-shake of the head. Undeterred, Karnaxx turned up his arms, pointedly, showing off vibroblade links along the bracers.
“What news, General?” Kylo asked neutrally.
“We’ve received tightbeam instructions from Coriolis to jump to an uninhabited planet within that narrow band of coordinates.”
Ryuri raised an eyebrow. “All of a sudden? How did that happen?”
“The First Order has had agents watching all of the Resistance’s known associates for a while. I gather from the intel that our agents on Moft II tailed the pirate Maz Kanata to a private hangar, then later spotted Poe Dameron in a quadjumper, raising ship, and managed to paint his tail with a tightbeam tracer before he jumped off planet. Hotted between a couple of systems before heading to a specific planet in Outer Rim, located in that gap in our starmap. Judging from the location in the star system, it’s habitable, and therefore, very likely where Luke Skywalker is located.”
“Bit of an assumption there,” Rekka drawled. Save for Qara, who was indifferent, and Kosche, who had come up through the ranks of the Imperial Academy with Hux before being selected for the Knights, General Hux’s irascible attitude had won him few friends among the rest.
“Assumption or not,” Hux said coldly, “We’ve been told to investigate with the Relentless. We’re leaving enough forces planetside to establish a defensive perimeter and a workable op. In two hours we’ll make the jump.”
“Funny how he didn’t ask the Finalizer to do it,” Rekka mused. “Not like the Supreme Commander. He’s usually a fan of overwhelming force.”
“Attacking an old Jedi and a couple of companions with a frigate isn’t a show of overwhelming force?” Karnaxx drawled, and Rekka glowered over the holodeck at his fellow Knight. Rekka may have led the Knights before Kylo had been assigned to them as commander, but Karnaxx was the vet with the most experience. Sometimes old resentments burned more hotly than they should.
“We’ve faced Luke Skywalker before,” Kylo pointed out flatly.
“With Kosche and Zuren, all the Knights at your back.” Qara murmured.
“Now I have the benefit of experience.” Kylo said firmly, grim once more. Maybe this was what Snoke meant by completing his training. Being able to face Luke and the scav once more. And this time, he would kill them both.
Hux frowned at him. “This time you are not facing a lone Jedi and a handful of frightened children. Luke Skywalker is still-“
“This time I am facing an old man,” Kylo cut in sharply, “And a girl trained by the ineffective doctrines of the so-called ‘Light’. I am ready. Or do you doubt me?”
He could see Ryuri straightening up subtly, in his peripheral vision, and likely, Hux could too, but the General merely pressed his lips together into a thin, bloodless line. Maybe confiding in Hux was a mistake after all. After all, one way that Hux could get back into Snoke’s good books was to find some way to stab Kylo in the back-
“Not at all,” Hux said evenly. “Merely cautioning you to be careful. My Lord.” With that, the General turned sharply on his heel, striding out of the Knight deck, no doubt headed for the bridge. Once the doors closed, Ryuri whistled.
“The hell crawled up his ass and died?”
“Nice ass though,” Karnaxx grunted, and smirked when Kylo blinked at him. “Can’t tell me you’ve never thought it, sir.”
“Never,” Kylo said, in as wintry a tone as he could manage.
Karnaxx shrugged. “Pity. You were front row for that speech he gave, weren’t you? I was watching aboard the Last Answer. Thought he was either gonna bust a vein or a load.”
Kylo sighed, even as Ryuri snickered and Rekka smirked. “Whether we like him or not, we do need General Hux right now.”
“To drive this big old tub?” Ryuri slapped a hand against the hull of the ship. “I could do that. Prance around the bridge and spit orders-“
“Needs more nuance than that,” Qara murmured.
“That’s what they all say, just so’s they keep their job. Give me a nice hat and a fancy title and I’ll do just fine.”
“Enough,” Kylo growled, tiring of their bickering. As much as his Knights worked together perfectly as a unit in combat, they could grate on his nerves during downtime. “In a few hours we may be facing a difficult battle. Concentrate on preparing for that.”
“General had a point,” Qara said neutrally, looking over at Kylo with her blankly expressionless face. “On Starkiller base, you met that scavenger girl and lost.”
“Qara,” Ryuri snapped.
“Qara’s right,” Kylo said evenly. “I lost then. This time round, I won’t underestimate her.”
“And, you’re not going into the fight with part of one kidney burned off,” Rekka added, a little unexpectedly: he’d never really been one to come to Kylo’s defense. “Been hit by a Wookie bowcaster before. Nasty little fuckers. You’re lucky to be alive.” Rekka patted his lower thigh heavily, and under his boot, the prosthetic leg made a dull clanging sound on contact.
“I won’t be careless again,” Kylo assured them. Yes. Chewbacca had much to answer for as well.
Once alone in his own cabin, Kylo removed his helm, dumping it on a magshelf, and rubbed a palm over his face, then through his hair. He sat heavily on the bench by the hull, beside the transparisteel cube which housed his grandfather’s ruined helmet, cradled in a wall brace that Kylo had installed personally.
“Han Solo is dead,” Kylo told the helmet, in a low whisper.
He’d said this before, sometimes in anger, sometimes in triumph, once, to his embarrassment, in something like uncertainty, pressed too close to grief. Han Solo had not been a father to Kylo by any real means of the word, engaged as he usually was in either volcanic quarrels with Leia or in Pathfinder missions. Growing up, peace and quiet had been in short supply, and Kylo would be embarrassed to admit that for a long time, confused, he had clung to his mother and turned from his father. He may have grown up worshipping Han Solo the legend, like everyone else, but Han Solo the father had been, at best, bewildered by a son, and at worst, curtly dismissive.
Still, even thinking about his father brought yet again the whisper-call at the back of Kylo’s mind, the pull of the other side of the Force: self-doubt, disorientation, weakness. Kylo had already seen how strong the Force could be, under the Supreme Leader’s tutelage. How unnatural the so-called Light was, which rejected human emotion. Self-doubt was what had ultimately caused Kylo to lose to the scavenger girl. Now he was better than that. His bloodline was better than that.
“Han Solo is dead,” Kylo tried again, evenly, this time. “And soon, Luke Skywalker as well. By my hand. In your name. And all old wrongs shall be avenged.”
The little scouting trip that Han had interrupted days ago had amounted to nothing but new alliances, but since then, Han and Maukeen had been industrious. “Done,” Maukeen reported briskly, from the control deck, even as Han finished fastening an Espo blaster’s holster around his waist, then a pouch of spare ammo. The two oldsters they’d knocked out in the security room were tied up awkwardly with cables, and if Han wasn’t also around their age, he’d probably have felt more bad about it.
“Securicams all looping?”
“I said I was done,” Maukeen growled. She was still young enough to be prickly over questions of competence, though Han couldn’t guess exactly how young. The Trianii tended to mostly look the same to him, unless they were cubs or white-muzzled elders.
“Just checking.” Han handed over the other blaster belt and ammo pouches, which Maukeen linked around her waist with somewhat more difficulty, tail lashing in annoyance. “Now I feel better about life,” Han added more cheerfully, patting his own blaster.
“Don’t be. Remember what I said about investigating first, shooting later?”
“I remember.” Han remembered this about the Trianii as well. Some galactic species didn’t handle humour so well. “Well kid, this is it. Since we punched out those two oldsters, there’s no going back. We ship out or we get shipped out.”
“I know. I am not a cub.”
“You are compared to me,” Han grinned, hoping that he looked ingratiating, and Maukeen sighed, turning for the door.
“Teacher Atuarre did mention this. That you were a great shot with a blaster and the best pilot she had ever met. But other than that, a very difficult person.”
“Who’s difficult?” Han scowled, but Maukeen had used their swiped securipass to tab open the door, and the game was on - and almost up the moment it began: Han had to hastily drag Maukeen back into the security room as a pair of blaster-mounted spider ‘droids trundled into view around a tight corner. They waited, straining their ears, until the ‘droids passed by and they couldn’t hear their multi-legged tread any longer, then they ducked out and scuttled quickly around the corner.
According to the full infomap that they’d found a day back in the admin ring, although there was a full bank of techs monitoring the well-being and life support of the Bacta tank inmates, emergency decanting overrides were available only from Warden Reach’s control deck. Which was hopefully not going to be too difficult to handle. Han had met more than his fair share of ‘droids of all shapes and sizes, and he’d only ever become reluctantly fond of a bare handful. Machinery that talked back still sometimes threw him for a loop.
Since Maukeen hadn’t managed to get access to this deck before now, let alone scout it, there were a couple more close shaves until they finally made it to the Warden’s Office, a set of black blast doors at the end of an upper mezzanine to this deck. No guards - possibly not a good sign. Maukeen crouched as Han input stolen access codes into the control pad, then she tensed up as the doors slid open with a metallic hum.
There was no one within the room. Blinking, Maukeen took a cautious step inside, followed by Han, then they both flinched violently as the door closed tightly shut between them. “Not bad,” said the Warden’s voice, from around them. “You’ve both come farther than I thought.”
“Where the hell are you, metalhead?” Han demanded.
“Everywhere, Citizen Bird. I am Star’s Reach.”
“An AI,” Maukeen hissed.
As big as a bloody colony? Han groaned. Trust the Espos to do it. Maukeen had darted over to the control deck, but the Warden said, a little smugly, “That won’t help you, Citizen Keanee. Or should I say… Ranger Maukeen? And as to you, Citizen Bird - you still have an impressive number of outstanding warrants against your real name in this sector. Han Solo.”
Well. That’s torn it. “Maybe we could work something out?” Han suggested. “Don’t think you want us here. Coincidentally, we don’t want to be here either. Sounds like we all got something in common.”
“I know about you and your deals, Solo-“ the Warden’s voice abruptly cut out. Over at the control deck, Maukeen had ripped out a handful of wires from under the deck, and the securipass had been slotted into the deck; she was typing furiously, frowning to herself, tail swiping from side to side.
“Shh,” Maukeen hissed. “Watch the door. Warden may send interference.”
“What are you doing?”
“What we came here to do. But I grew tired of all the talking. Mrr. Trojan coded into securicam loops still working. I think the Warden only managed to find us when we entered this office. It's still blind and I can keep it that way.”
“You don’t say.” Resigned, Han watched the door. The Warden’s office was really a control bank, no chairs or furniture to speak of - no cover, even. He had no idea why the room even existed. If the Warden was a stationwide AI, then what was the point?
“This is a maintenance override terminal,” Maukeen said, arriving at the same conclusion as Han. “In case something happens to the AI. Manual overrides. Here,” she tabbed up reams of records over the holodeck behind the control panels, all icon-sized 3D imaging and bars of text. Most of the images were of Rodians. All of the health tabs were green lit.
“So if they’re all okay,” Han had glanced back briefly over his shoulder, “Why the hell aren’t they awake?”
“Sedation.” Maukeen tabbed briefly through the files, then abruptly crowed with relief. “Yes! Here.” She flicked her fingers, and one of the files enlarged, showing a livestream holo of a sleeping Togruta, naked and linked up by an airmask. She was older than Han Solo had imagined, her reddish skin paler with age and mottled with wrinkles, her black and white striped montrals and headtails floating in the Bacta fluid around her narrow, white patched face. She seemed uninjured, and Maukeen let out a sigh of relief as they noted the green lit health tabs.
Briskly, Maukeen swiped the Togruta’s tab from ‘Storage’ to ‘Discharge’, using the Warden override, then, as an afterthought, swiped out everyone else with health at green as well.
“Should you really be doing that?” Han asked warily. “I mean. Putting aside how objectively funny it’s gonna be for Star’s Reach to be overwhelmed by a buncha naked Rodians and friends… they’re not gonna last long out there.”
“You’ll be surprised,” Maukeen said briskly. “We’ll clear a path down to the Bacta banks, then out to the hangar. Also, I activated supply procedures. There will be no nudity.” She paused. “Most probably.”
Outside, Han could hear the growing, depressing sound of security personnel approaching, boots tramping up the corridor towards them, probably about to take a firing position. “Maukeen-“
“Got it,” Maukeen typed something else into the console, her tail puffed up with agitation, then as the boots began to slow down, she snarled, “Got it!” and whirled, already drawing her blaster from her hip.
Sometimes the brain just took over. Han drew just as the blast doors slid open, already firing into the mass of ‘droids and Espos starting to line up in the corridor beyond, locking his wrist, going for centre mass. The shrills of the blaster discharging was loud in the small chamber, the smell of burned flesh and charred metal just as familiar as it always was. With the corridor as narrow as it was, between Maukeen and Han they’d caught the response team by surprise, and it was short, sharp and brutal.
The blaster in his hand warmed up: bad heat sink - but Han and Maukeen were already on the move, stopping only to scavenge a few blaster cells off the bodies. An alarm klaxon was pealing, a deep droning wail that made Maukeen grimace even as she led them both confidently down an emergency stair, following a separate route in her mind.
Han grinned to himself as he followed her down, and at Maukeen’s backward querying stare, he said wryly, “Kinda used to leave this sorta detail to my first mate. Felt like deja vu for a moment.”
“Chewbacca the Wookie,” Maukeen nodded, continuing to head briskly down the stairs. “I’ve heard.”
“So we got a plan?” Han asked, as they descended a couple of levels, thankfully unimpeded. “And why’re all the doors open?”
“Because that’s the last command I fed into the deck,” Maukeen explained briskly. “Every door in the facility is open. Thought it might make things easier.”
“Good thinking,” Han approved, then it got too busy for chatter - a security ‘droid and a couple of Espos had rolled out of the door one floor beneath them. Again, the firefight was brief and brutal. Vets as the Espos might be, in small teams they were little match for Han and a Ranger. Han actually even felt slightly guilty about it, rushing behind Maukeen in a brisk jog out of the emergency well, through to a clinical sector that looked vaguely familiar-
-not that Han remembered this kind of devastation from before. Droids were powered down or flung against walls, and Espos lay in groaning, semi-conscious tangles on the ground. Puzzled, Han hesitated near the closest Espo, but at a snarled “We need to catch up!” from Maukeen, he jogged back over to her side.
“Your Not-Quite-Resistance Rodians must really know how to kick ass,” Han said, surprised, as they followed the occasional knot of unconscious Espos and wrecked droids. At Maukeen’s irritated backward glance, Han added, defensively, “I mean. It’s a pretty rude awakening, but they got their bearings real quick. Besides, they also had’ta protect your elderly Togruta friend.”
“My-“ Maukeen let out a sharp, barking sound, a Trianii laugh, and turned away instead, picking up her pace, until Han was jogging to keep up, huffing.
They darted over fallen droids, over sprawled Espos, until they finally made it to the hangar. Panting, out of breath, Han stumbled out of the corridor behind Maukeen, just in time to stare, wide-eyed, as an Espo spun to a stop at their feet, unconscious. Beyond, beside a landing bay with a troop transporter, the wrinkly old Togruta in an inmate jumpsuit was straightening up, barehanded, though she fell back into a defensive stance as they piled into the hangar, palms up, feet set apart. Then she smiled broadly as Maukeen darted towards her, picking her up bodily and hugging her, swinging her around as though she weighted nothing; the Rodians that were slowly trooping into the transporter, supporting each other, paused, clapping, hooting and cheering.
“Maukeen!” said the Togruta, delighted, “I thought it might’ve been you.”
“Who else?” Maukeen grinned broadly, showing all her teeth, setting the Togruta down gently, gesturing at Han. “This is Han Solo.”
She blinked, studying Han, openly curious. There was a little mischief to her smile, though there was an iron calm in her eyes, to the set of her shoulders, an otherworldly calm that Han found vaguely familiar. He had seen it before, worn by people he had known, years upon years ago. Suddenly, the downed security patrols made more sense.
“I didn’t know that there were still Jedi in the galaxy, lady…?”
“There are no more Jedi,” she corrected, though her smile widened slightly. “I’m glad to meet you at last, Solo. Call me Snips.”
The spit of land they were approaching looked promising. There were bits of white stone lined upwards, kind of like a stair. In the shadow of the grassy cliff that rose out of the sea was an A-Wing, sitting quiet, but as Poe spun the quadjumper around, Finn swallowed his disappointment. No Falcon.
“Guess they’re not here. Let’s try the next island.”
“They were here,” Poe corrected thoughtfully. “Look at that beach at the bottom of the stair. Those rectangular indentations on the sand are from landing treads. The Falcon was here.”
“So they’re… gone?”
“Looks like it.” Poe landed the quadjumper neatly on the beach, and Finn squirmed impatiently until the turbines powered down. Once Poe disengaged the airlock, Finn was out of his seat, fidgeting as the retractable ladder spooled out from the rear hatch to the ground below.
The air smelled like brine and grass, thickly humid, and the overall gee felt a little heavier than Finn was used to. He looked around wildly, staring hard at the seamless horizon, blue over blue, willing the Falcon to appear. “Maybe they went on a short trip,” Finn suggested, as Poe dropped down onto the sand.
“Hm,” Poe toed shallow furrows on the sand that the wind hadn’t yet managed to level. “Looks like they were dragging stuff to the Falcon.” They jogged over to the A-Wing, and Poe pulled himself up and ducked into the open hatch for a few minutes before coming back out again. “They took the fuel cells and any movable supplies. Cargo bay’s empty, and there’s a cradle with catches that was used recently, probably held a speeder.”
“You mean Rey and Chewie salvaged the A-Wing?” Finn carefully avoided saying Luke’s name.
“Seems like it. Two sets of human-sized prints. Something bigger… probably Chewbacca. And these long tracks have to be R2-D2.” The indentations over the grass were mostly gone, but for R2-D2’s tracks, but some of the disturbances in the sand were still there.
“At least they’re… off somewhere,” Finn said doubtfully. “Not that it helps us.”
“I’ll get the A-Wing’s ship log,” Poe decided, though he didn’t sound too enthusiastic about the prospects as he ducked back into the ship. Depressed all over again, Finn wandered away from the A-Wing, circling the the tiny island. There were discarded crates, fishing rods, even a little rack that still had drying fish-creature-things… if fish had evolved not to have eyes plus several sets of fins. There was a water purifier, abandoned in the sand, though the solar cells it had been attached to had been taken. There was a sectioned off area with a steep incline that had probably been used as an latrine, along with empty pails for washing.
It didn’t take Finn long to end up back at the Falcon, where he found Poe waiting for him. “No temple,” Finn told Poe. “Unless it’s up top or something.”
“The A-Wing’s ship log is gone,” Poe reported grimly. “They thought to cover their tracks.”
“So what now?”
Poe was holding a piece of flat rock, which he held up for Finn to inspect. It was a carving, the images on it nearly worn flat, and seemed to be part of something bigger that Finn couldn’t make out. “Art?” Finn hazarded. Life in the First Order hadn’t really prepared him for art, something that Jess had taken upon herself to educate Finn on. Not entirely successfully.
“Here.” Poe pointed at a pattern at the corner of the rock. “That’s a constellation.”
“And… you think that’s where Rey and L… uh, you think that’s where they went?”
“I was going to try listening to the ship’s log first,” Poe said doubtfully. “But since that's out of the question now... this is the only thing on this island that seems remotely, ah, Jedi-like. I climbed up to take a look, too. Someone went to the trouble of piecing this old thing together. Recently. There’s some seaweed still clinging to one of the corners, and it’s dry, but not rotted.”
“Okay,” Finn began, then he trailed off, turning his head. Since Jakku, whenever Finn was planetside, he sometimes found himself scanning the horizon, now and then, and this time, his subconscious had struck lucky. Approaching quickly, behind a cloud bank, was a string of black specks, far too orderly to be birds.
“Finn?” Poe stumbled as Finn grabbed his elbow and tugged, then he looked in the direction of Finn’s stare and cursed under his breath.
They scrambled aboard the quadjumper in a dead run, Poe tossing the piece of rock away onto one of the bunks - thankfully they hadn’t thought to bother unloading BB-8 - and Finn frantically engaged the airlock even as Poe all but dived towards the cockpit. They raised ship just as the first rank of TIE fighters swept towards them in a strafing run, and Finn had barely strapped down when Poe engaged the hyperdrive, right off planetside.
“What the hell!” Finn yelped, BB-8 concurring in a high blaring whistle of alarm behind him, as around them, the quadengines moaned and rattled, trying to shake apart from the sheer force of turbine and ion engines roaring to life at the same time, the stars leaping into spears of light before his eyes.
The onboard consoles began to squeal, warning alarms pealing in one by one, even as Poe frantically flicked switches and adjusted settings, all the while murmuring desperately, “Sorry girl, I’m sorry, just a bit more, just a bit more-“
-and then they were out, in empty space, the stars an uneven jet blanket of pinpricks, all around them. Poe let out a deep breath and killed the turbine engines, life support kicking in as the ion engines powered down to low thrust, just enough for gravity.
“Man,” Finn let out the breath he hadn’t realized that he’d been holding in. “You’re crazy. Han Solo crazy.”
“Thanks, I think,” Poe was grimacing at the control deck, unstrapping himself from his seat. “Quadjumpers aren’t made for that kind of punishment. I’m going to have to do a check, maybe make some repairs.”
“I’ll help,” Finn offered quickly. Behind him, BB-8 made a series of disbelieving beeps that made Poe grin. “I’ll try to help,” Finn corrected sourly.
“Just keep an eye on the radar,” Poe waved Finn towards the pilot’s seat, “And call me if there’s a problem.”
“Sure. I can do that.” A little relieved that he wasn’t yet again called over to do mechanical assist, Finn settled down in the pilot’s seat. “Damn that First Order intel. They must’ve had eyes on Moft II.”
“Not surprising,” Poe was clanking around in the crew quarters. “We resupply at Moft. But I thought Maz had taken the right precautions. This is a clean ship. No way they could’ve traced us to that planet that quickly.”
“Could’ve tagged us on the way out,” Finn said gloomily.
“What do you mean?”
“Tightbeam tag, single frequency. Paint and pray. Everyone had to practice with those rifles. Pain in the ass to target anything smaller than the side of a barn-“ Finn flinched as he realized Poe had scrambled back over to his shoulder, and was frowning at him. “What?”
“I think,” Poe said carefully, “You had better explain that all over to me again.”
I'm not that familiar with Star Wars Cartoon canon, so Ahsoka Tano will not be that similar to the cartoons... but then again, she's far older now, and hopefully wiser ;)
Unsurprisingly, Chewbacca seemed to have come to Llanic before, and Luke was content to let him set the coordinates. Rey played co-pilot, and tried not to make her excitement too obvious. Two months spent isolated on that ocean planet were two months far too long. She may have grown up on Jakku, with mostly smugglers and scavengers for company, but she still had company. As Chewbacca took the Falcon down at a quiet, empty berth, Rey found that she was bursting with impatience to get planetside. Food! New sights! Other people!
Maybe Chewbacca noticed - he woofed at her, then gestured towards the cockpit access tunnel behind them as the fuel drive powered down into a low background thrum. Tucked behind her seat, R2-D2 translated in a quick beeps. “You sure you want to stay on board?” Rey asked doubtfully. “If we lock the ship down, people can’t break in.”
To that, Chewbacca made a disparaging growl, summing up his opinion of Llanic and the integrity of smuggler ports in general, and Rey shrugged, unbuckling and getting up. “I’ll um, go get some supplies with Luke then. Though… I don’t have creds, and I didn’t think to borrow anything from the General…” Chewbacca sniffed, and yowled mournfully. “You’re broke too? But you and Han are famous-“ Rey swallowed her words as Chewbacca turned away from her, snuffling. “Chewie? I’m sorry. I should’ve thought. I’m-“ A dismissive, sharp wave cut her off, but as Rey tried to clamber closer, Chewbacca gently but firmly pushed her towards the access tunnel by her shoulder.
Rey slunk off, ashamed of herself. She ran into Luke coming out of the crew’s communal space. He had changed out of his robes into an old spacer rig that had clearly seen better days - maybe better decades, the vest loose at his shoulders, the blaster holster worn awkwardly against his hip. Luke was used to different weapons now. The abstract blankness in his face was gone, at least, replaced by a tired focus that was slightly better. Maybe. Luke looked like an old wanderer, lost, still slowly crawling for a distant home: he wore hopelessness and his weariness like an old coat and drew a colourless breed of jaded cynicism about him like a second shadow.
“We need to replenish our food supplies. Fuel as well. Someone stripped the Falcon to its bones. The galley’s empty, the vacuum suits are gone, the water recycling unit’s probably on its last legs, there’s no escape pod any longer, someone damaged the quad laser cannon and the concussion missile banks are dry.”
“She changed hands a few times. Stolen,” Rey explained, guiltily deciding not to talk about the quad cannon.
“Ah.” Something relaxed a little in Luke’s face. “Yes. Han wouldn’t have let it deteriorate to such a state otherwise. He loves this ship.”
“Luke,” Rey said uncomfortably. “I um. Told you before. But Han is… I told you what happened. On Starkiller base. Chewie’s still grieving, I think.”
Luke stared at her, as though she was speaking gibberish, his expression worn and bemused, as though uncomprehending. Finally, he said, “Chewbacca owes Han a life debt. It’s something that Wookies take very seriously. They both don’t like being separated.”
“Han died, Luke,” Rey persisted, as gently as she could. “I was there.”
Again that bemused stare, though this time, Rey thought she saw a flicker of… something, in Luke’s tired eyes. But then it was gone, and Luke turned away as the airlock disengaged. “Keep close by while we’re at Lurta Port. And watch your belongings.”
“Sounds just like home already,” Rey gave up. Maybe this was Luke’s way of dealing with grief. Hopefully. She really, really hoped that the so-called Last Hope of the Galaxy was still sane. “We have another problem. No creds.”
“Not a problem.”
“You’re going to use the Force?”
This got her a faintly amused look. “That’s not what the Force is for. I have an expense account. It’s been collecting interest for quite a while, so it should be enough for our purposes.”
Outside the Falcon waited a Rodian, some sort of port official, though docking seemed informal: Luke spoke quietly to the Rodian for a while, then creds seemed to change hands, and the Rodian backed off, even offering them a little wave. Rey was too busy gawking. She’d thought that D’Qar was crowded, with its thousands of Resistance personnel. But it had nothing on Lurta. D’Qar’s Resistance base and Niima Outpost could’ve fit comfortably into half of Lurta City, though it didn’t so much as build upwards as sprawl outwards. When they’d taxied in for a landing, Rey had seen that Lurta City took up most of its little continent save for a green band that banked it away from the beach and ocean. On the ground, the green band seemed to be made up of huge palms that towered over even the lone tower rising out of the spaceport, strung together with thin walkways. Most of the habs were blocky things, cobbled together out of grounded old ships or prefabs, the streets all of uneven widths and with no apparent signage or order. And the people! Rey had never seen so many different species together all at once.
“Don’t stare,” Luke murmured, though not unkindly.
“You’ve been here before?” Rey asked, following at Luke’s heels as he started walking, but he didn’t answer: it was R2-D2 that beeped a quick response. “A dogfight above the planet!”
“It was a long time ago,” Luke said distractedly. “Calm yourself, keep an eye out. Based on what you’ve told me of the First Order, they clearly have agents everywhere.”
Luke didn’t sound as though he really cared either way, but Rey fell silent, abashed. They ducked through a weaving webwork of streets until Rey was thoroughly lost and had almost been trampled twice, once by a bantha, of all things, dusty and docile but incurious about anything in its path, and once by some multi-legged, scaly beast, high-backed, saddled by a Rodian that shook his fist at her as Rey hastily scrambled out of the way. The thoroughfares were thick with traffic and smelled unpleasantly of animal waste and sewage, and Rey took in grateful breaths when Luke finally took them down a network of narrowing side streets, until he finally came up to what looked like an old Imperial Transport, beached on its side, its belly modified, with a door at the aft and a chimney built up into its hull up top that belched greasy smoke. Something smelled delicious, and Rey’s mouth was watering as Luke circled around to the front of the transport.
It was a… diner of sorts, with large crates and small crates for tables and chairs, all mismatching, some rusting gently in the humid heat. A Rodian was frying orange hunks of something on a grill, while occasionally stirring a large waist-high vat of thick bluish soup to his right. Luke sat down at a spare crate, looking briefly behind him at the front of tall palms, then looking back as Rey sat down before him.
“They’re like really big Naboo palms,” Rey said, when Luke was silent. “I spent a lot of the last two months reading the databanks.”
“Almost the same shape, yes. But not quite the same. Notice there aren’t any leaves or branches dropping. The Hands of the Maker are all highly complex single cells. Allows them to change and adapt to the weather. They’re big now, in the summer, but they’ll grow small and dome-like in the winter. And nothing goes to waste. Since they don’t seem to deteriorate, they’re effectively immortal.”
“Oh.” Rey looked at the ‘palms’ with a new light. “That’s… strange.”
“This planet was originally colonised as a scientific outpost.”
Luke shrugged. “The outpost was still around when I was last here. But the planet’s in a great location, trade wise, and it’s unrestricted, so it’s full of useful people.”
“Glad to see that’s what you think I am,” said a dry voice behind Rey.
Turning, Rey looked up - and up - into the calm countenance of a female Sluissi, with light brown, fine-scaled skin and intelligent round black eyes. With a great fold of skin behind her narrow head, and her torso clad in a mechanic’s grease-stained overalls and utility pouches, the Sluissi, like all her kind as described by the Falcon’s databanks, looked vaguely like what would happen if someone attached the top half of a human to the bottom half of some huge sand-snake. Her rattle-tipped tail was coiled neatly beside her, and she swayed briefly as she slithered up to settle by their table.
“Long time,” added the Sluissi, as Rey tried not to stare.
“Hello Cassa,” Luke greeted her. “Glad to see you’re still around.”
“Cheeky,” Cassa’s forked tongue flicked out briefly, tasting the air. “Just because your species tends to kick around for a decade or so longer than we do. Well, what do you want? Funny story,” she added, before Luke could speak. “First Order’s put out a bounty on whoever has info on a man, a girl, an R2 astromech droid, a Wookie, and a modded YT-1300. Could say the bounty’s the life-changing, retire-quietly-somewhere-cushy sort of bounty.”
Rey stiffened, but Luke merely smiled thinly. “Not surprised. I need supplies. I also need a ship deep-scanned and cleaned up. Maybe even restored, though we’ll have to consult its current pilot for that.”
“About that bounty,” Rey tried, in a low voice, but Luke didn’t glance at her.
“My cred’s probably still good,” Luke added evenly, “Or you probably wouldn’t have bothered talking to me.”
Cassa sighed. “I ‘bothered’ talking to you because my species owes that ship and its owner a great debt. Your cred account’s tagged to hell and back. The First Order’s got eyes everywhere: the moment you make a withdrawal, they’d know where, and who, and why. And chances are, they’re already on their way here. Should’ve hid the Wookie amidships and docked just with your friend here. Definitely shouldn’t have disembarked with the astromech.”
“Then we should go,” Rey decided, worried. “First Order doesn’t care about collateral damage.”
“She’s right.” Cassa agreed grimly.
“I need supplies,” Luke repeated calmly, as though he hadn’t heard, and fixed Cassa with his weary stare. “Can you help me? If you can’t, I’ll talk to someone else. Corlo, or-“
“Corlo’s dead. Got between an Abyssin and a tall drink. Bom’s gone as well, got sick with something he caught over at Naboo. And Dorka’s shipped offworld. People took their place, sure, but they’ll sooner sell you to the First Order than take your creds. Or maybe they’ll take your creds and sell you. Few more creds never hurts.”
“Can you help me?” Luke said again, narrowing his eyes, and Cassa stared back at him, unblinkingly, before she abruptly looked away.
“Damn you, ‘walker! I’ll help you. But you have to be ready to raise ship, all right? Most of the people here have got nothing to do with your war. If you lure the First Order here, you’ll have blood on your hands.”
“Thank you,” Luke nodded absently, and rose to his feet, walking away. Rey stared at his back, feeling betrayed - she’d really wanted to try whatever the Rodian was grilling, or the soup. As she got up reluctantly, she flinched as Cassa gently touched her elbow.
“Something happened?” Cassa asked, her tone gentle.
Rey frowned at her. “He’s um, preoccupied right now.”
“You can’t be a real Sluissi without having a feel for broken things,” Cassa murmured. “Be careful, girl. When people like that one go wrong… it’s bad for everyone.“
“He won’t,” Rey said defensively, but Cassa had already turned away, slithering back towards the transport.
At her feet, R2-D2 whistled sympathetically, but Rey shook her head at it and jogged off hurriedly after Luke. Luke wasn’t going to the Dark Side. Rey was sure of it. There wasn’t any of the roiling tempest to his mind that Rey had felt, the angry seething burn that had been all but bleeding off Kylo Ren. What Luke had gone to was perhaps worse, in a way; worse than choosing to go dark. Luke had turned to the counsel of despair, Rey could see that now, and although he was going through the motions, there was no hope left in him.
They had to find the First Temple. That would help. Rey had to believe that. “Wait up!”
Poe had offered to be the one to skip out in the suit, but there wasn’t any point to that. After all, it wasn’t like he’d know what to look for.
Finn’s grav boots attached with low clunks that he heard through the hermetic environment in his suit, and he clanked slowly out from the airlock, careful of his step. Maz’s rig had a little jetpack and an oxygen tank, but it was compact - the reading on Finn’s armdeck indicated an EVA dura of two hours from green. He’d have to work fast and pray that the First Order had decided to keep scanning the ocean planet instead of tracing the Roci.
Wherever they were, they were far enough from the closest star that on the shadow side of the Roci, Finn could only feel a bone-deep chill, even through the Epstein weave. Chances were, the sunward side was going to cook him anyway if he stayed out here too long, but for now, Finn silently thanked Maz for the decent rig and got to work, checking over the first quad engine.
“All right out there?” Poe asked over the comms.
“Not my first time,” Finn repeated confidently, though that was a lie. This was his first time, out of training, anyway, and he’d never had to do something like remove a tracer from a ship. Usually, it was the other way around.
“You’re pretty amazing,” Poe said lightly. “You’re a great shot… you've been learning the vibroblade, you navigated Starkiller base… got me out of the Finalizer…”
Finn paused in the middle of clambering up with grav gloves and boots to the upper stabiliser vane. Was Poe teasing him? Finn hadn’t really gotten the hang of humour, either. Finally, he opted to just keep on doing his job. “All in a day’s work.”
“If the other stormtroopers are like you, I’m surprised we even got this far.”
Playful. That was it. That was the strange note in Poe’s voice. Finn liked it, if only because it meant that Poe was in a good mood; and besides, it made Finn smile, even in his fishbowl helmet, stuck on the ass end of a quadjumper in the middle of nowhere. “If the others were like me, the Finalizer would’ve been pretty empty. Nobody else seemed to get too fazed by what happened in that village.”
Finn had said something wrong - Poe sobered right up. “You talked to the others?”
“Nope… Captain Phasma didn’t appreciate unnecessary chatter on a job. But I could tell.” Flying back to the Finalizer had just been like flying to that poor village. Everyone ramrod straight, eyes forward. Or had the others minded? It wasn’t as though Finn had stuck around to really find out. “I think.”
“I’m still glad that you got me out of there.”
“You should be,” Finn shuddered, as he checked under the vane, then clambered back down to the quad engine. “I heard stories about what they do to prisoners. Usually people don’t survive interrogations by any of the Knights, let alone Lor… uh, Kylo Ren.”
“I mean, I’m glad that you got me out.”
Hadn’t Poe just said that? Confused, Finn said cautiously, “You’re… welcome?”
Poe let out what sounded like a frustrated sigh, that scattered into low, rueful chuckling. “Sometimes I think I say one thing and you hear something totally different.”
“No I didn’t,” Finn disagreed, puzzled. “You said you’re glad that I got you out of the Finalizer. Well, I’m glad too. You’re an awesome pilot.”
“I mean I… maybe this isn’t the best time to say it… but I really like you, Finn.” Poe had gone earnest, almost nervous, even, like he was confessing some kind of secret.
“… Thanks?” Finn was even more bewildered now. “All of you warmed up to me quick. And I like you too. And Jess. And the others.”
“There. You’re doing it again,” Poe said wryly, then he paused. “Wait. How old are you?”
Finn fought the urge to clap a grav glove over his helmet. “Why’d you ask?”
“I’m not really sure,” Finn confessed. “First Order doesn’t really keep track of that.”
“Born after the Battle of Endor?”
“Um, yeah. Quite a bit.”
Poe exhaled loudly, but before Finn could ask, he added, “And in the First Order. You said you had friends among the other stormtroopers. If you don’t mind me asking, were you… more than friends? With any of them?”
“Had a commanding officer,” Finn wondered what Poe was getting at now. “Chewbacca stuffed her in a trash compactor in Starkiller base. You probably wouldn’t have liked her.”
“Should’ve known I was handling all this ass backwards after all,” Poe murmured, but before Finn could think of what to ask, he added, in a more normal tone, “How’s that tracer search going?”
“Still looking.” Finn was hauling himself to the belly of the quadjumper. “How’s repairs?”
“Think the Roci maybe has one more jump in her, but I don’t want to chance it until I do an hour's more work on her, at the least. Breaking apart in hyperspace won’t be fun.”
“So we’re going to cut it real close anyway.” Story of Finn’s life. Post-First Order, anyway.
“Only if you don’t find the bug stuck to our ass before we get company.”
“I’m working on it.”
How cold is space? http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130920-how-cold-is-space-really
Age table: http://www.yodasdatapad.com/ages.html Ahsoka wld be 70 years old
Maukeen grinned toothily at Han, even as Snips shrugged modestly. “Friends in high places.”
“How the hell did you get captured and stashed in a Bacta tank then, lady?”
“Wasn’t conscious at the time,” Snips muttered, her grip on the handholds flanking the hull of the transporter tightening as Han initiated landing gear, setting the transporter down neatly in the hangar. The moment they touched down, Han felt the brief sensation of lightness that told him that the frigate had jumped back into hyperspace, and he disengaged the airlock, lowering the ramp.
“You didn’t need a pilot to fly this old tug,” Han told Maukeen accusingly. “Anyone who knows their flightstick from a landing lock could’ve done it.”
“Did not know about the others. Thought I was just on Star’s Reach for Snips. Also thought we would have to snatch an A-Wing and run for it.” Maukeen said, clearly unfazed that backup had arrived in such spectacular fashion. Life had to be good in the Rangers.
“I contacted General Calrissian with the transport’s comms and he decided to chance the blockade,” Snips explained.
“Wait a minute. Calrissian? As in, Lando Calrissian?” Han demanded suspiciously, just as the ramp deployed fully.
“As I live an’ breathe. That you, Solo? You old scoundrel!” Lando called up from the outside. Han squeezed past the Rodians and the people piling up to help them, striding off the ramp and grinning as he saw Lando standing to a side, in a pale blue tunic under a brown vest, high boots, and a cap set jauntily on his head. “Damn. Look at the two of us. We got old, Han.”
“You’re only ever as old as you feel,” Han shook Lando’s hand warmly. The years had treated Lando no better than Han: he was thinner, his hair etched silver, and wrinkles crowded his skin and the edges of his broad, friendly smile. His grip was as firm as ever, though, and the mischief was still there, for all that they’d clearly walked such different paths. “Still a General?”
“Well, whatever they wanna call me. But we all know who’s really boss and it ain’t me.” Lando winked as Snips ambled over to shake his hand. “Nice to see you still in one piece, Tano.”
“Haven’t gone senile yet, Calrissian? I’m shocked. Thanks for coming to get us.”
“If I didn’t, who’s going to hover over my shoulder on the bridge and backseat drive the Farthest Sky?” Landon chuckled. “Hey, Maukeen. Knew you’d make it.”
“General,” Maukeen nodded a polite greeting. “Didn’t think you would make it through the Sector blockade.”
“Probably wouldn’t have,” Lando agreed, “If I didn’t have help.” At Snip’s curious glance, he added, “Best if I show you. Eyes only. Han can come too, he’s got history.”
“Catch up later,” Maukeen said, tail twitching as she turned to go, though if from disappointment or irritation Han couldn’t tell. “Nice working with you, Solo.”
The Farthest Sky wasn’t well-stocked by any means, with only a couple of X-Wings and an A-Wing docked into cradles, and on closer inspection, the ship was growing long in the tooth, if not quite as run-down as the Eravana had been. There had been some attempts to keep it shipshape, but it was nowhere as spick and span as a military ship should be.
“So what are you guys?” Han asked, as Lando led them out of the frigate’s hangar. “Can’t keep thinking of you as the Not-Resistance.”
“Call us Fulcrum,” Snips suggested lightly. “Used to be just me, but I’ve branched out. A few friends here, a base there, a frigate here…”
“Never heard of you guys,” Han confessed.
“Not surprised,” Lando said wryly. “You fell right back into the old life, and we weren’t working in those circles.”
Lando hadn’t meant any criticism by that, Han knew it, but he felt stung anyway. This, in a way, was how life could’ve worked out. Lando and Han had started off more or less in the same place. But where Lando had determinedly worked upwards, found a purpose, kept on fighting, Han had run downwards, away from everything, and he’d just kept right on running. For an unwelcome, unfamiliar moment, Han actually felt a little ashamed of himself.
Deciding to change the subject, Han turned to Snips. “Were you in the Order before? You seem like you were trained.”
“A long time ago,” Snips said carefully. “And yes. I was trained. By the best.”
“Any reason why you guys didn’t join up with the Resistance? Lando, you dropped off the radar after the Alliance kinda turned into the New Republic.”
“Had my reasons,” Snips didn’t look like she was intent on explaining.
“Wasn’t my thing,” Lando confessed. “And I kinda thought it was fine to just hot off. I mean, I thought our job was done. We’d downed the big bad, had the celebrations, medals all round. When shit just started all over again I didn’t want anything to do with it for a while. But Snips dug me out of the Outer Rim, so here I am.”
“Happy endings are just endings that haven’t gone on long enough,” Han grunted.
“And… damn but I’m sorry, Han,” Lando added uncomfortably. “I remember when Ben was just a little kid. Running around, pretending he was a spaceship. What he’s become… what he did to you-”
“Had too much Vader in him after all,” Han said quietly, an excuse within an excuse. The way Ben had turned out… it wasn’t as though Han himself was blameless. Or Leia, even. They’d been so caught up in their new lives… Han had never really been cut out for fatherhood… and they’d expected so much of their quiet son the moment Luke had said that Ben had been born force-sensitive…
“And Luke Skywalker’s still missing,” Snips added, to Han’s relief.
“Ah, about that. He’s on the move. The last I heard, he was ID’d in Lurta City.”
“Lurta? What the hell was he doing there?”
“Not just him,” Lando grinned. “From the tightbeam chatter we tapped into? Seems like there was also a girl, an R2 astromech, and a banged up old YT-1300 with a Wookie in the cockpit.”
For a long moment, the only sound Han could make was a shaky laugh. Relief was so overwhelming that he had to look away, his breaths unsteady, all of the climb up a few decks into what was clearly Lando’s personal chambers. It was compact, with a cleanser to one side and a bunk to the other, and mag-shelving where Lando kept a blaster rifle and some odds and ends. Most of the room was taken up by a holodeck, which Lando activated by pressing his palm to the console.
There was nothing for a long moment, then a flicker, and the blur refocused into a woman, from the shoulders up, dressed some sort of dark blue uniform, tagged over the heart with the CSA’s symbol. She was at least well into middle age, silver just starting to pepper her shoulder-length hair, but there were laugh lines at her mouth, and her rich brown eyes were just as warm and intelligent as ever.
“I’ll be damned,” Han Solo breathed. “That you, Fiolla?”
“Han,” Fiolla smiled. “Journeys end, and all that.”
“Apparently I have you to thank for letting Lando here pull my ass out of the fire.”
“Far more than that,” Fiolla said blandly. “I had agents quietly investigating Starkiller base, and they happened to be prepping for evac when you fell past in front of their eyes. Lucky one of them had a jetpack. You were hurt pretty badly, but they managed to stabilize you until they got you to Star’s Reach, where they checked you in along with Tano there and all the people we rescued off Fulcrum’s bases.”
Beside Han, Snips frowned at Fiolla. “Not that I’m not glad for the rescue, but… who are you?”
“I’m Auditor-General Hart-and-Parn Gorra-Fiolla of Lorrd,” Fiolla made a playful little bow from where she was seated. “CEO of Hart and Parn Starships. We’ve gone from a little landspeeder business into something bigger.”
“Now there’s an understatement,” Lando whistled. “Heard you guys cornered the market in the Corporate Sector for repairs and sales of anything below frigate-class.”
“Well then,” Snips blinked. “My thanks, again. Auditor-General.”
“You’re welcome. I’ve done well for myself,” Fiolla said modestly. “And I don’t forget my debts. If Han never helped me break up that slave ring on Bonadan… I’d never have gotten that leg up with Odumin. Everything fell in place after that. Chewbacca’s alive, by the way,” she added gently. “I think you might like to know that.”
“Thanks, but what gives?” Han asked, curious. “Why go to all the trouble of making me a Citizen ID and checking me - and Tano - into Star’s Reach? And those Rodians? I thought the CSA was staying out of the Resistance-First Order throwdown.”
“We’re independent, yes. But…” Fiolla hesitated for a moment, then she sighed, and said, in a far more sober voice, “The First Order murdered five entire worlds, Han. Not even the CSA can ignore that. Even if we didn’t have existing trade relationships with Hosnian Prime… we lost close to a million of our own Citizens. People who were visiting, or on business, or settled there.”
“So what’s stopping you? Go to war. Join up with the New Republic.”
“I wish it were that simple,” Fiolla said uncomfortably. “I’ve been fighting the First Order’s influence in the CSA for the last half a decade. They have the creds now, especially since they’ve annexed so many independent mining worlds. And they’re ruthless. In a way, worse than the Empire ever was. They’ve infiltrated the CSA, everywhere that matters.”
“You guys are running scared,” Han guessed. “So you want to stay independent while you clean house.”
“That’s what the official story is,” Fiolla agreed grimly. “But how many more will die if we keep arguing among ourselves? We’ve already lost a million of our own. Billions of people. But the CSA’s never come up against an enemy this implacable. I understand why they don’t want to pick a side. But I don’t want to wait until it’s too late either. So this is my compromise.”
“I appreciate the save, I guess,” Han said doubtfully.
Fiolla laughed. “Oh Han. It’s been more than twenty years, and you still think you’re the centre of everything.”
“He’s never gonna kick that habit,” Lando agreed, and smirked as Han glowered over at him.
“Saving Tano here was the point. Making it seem like she was dead. You? That was a matter of luck. Your luck - just as strong as ever, dropping you in the right place at the right time, literally. But this isn’t all the help that I’m willing to give. I’ve sent you new ship tags, Captain Lando, as well as a Waiver for CSA space. Come by Lorrd. I’d like to meet you in person, Tano. And Han? It’ll be good to see you again.”
“Consider me intrigued, Auditor-General,” Snips smiled.
“Seems my ship was spotted in Llanic,” Han said reluctantly. “Lorrd’s out of my way.”
“Your ship was in Llanic. They’ve already raised ship, and one of my ground agents managed to stop a First Order operative from painting her tail with a tracer. Still, I don’t doubt the First Order will be investigating Lurta soon, in force, so all you’re going to find there is trouble. And until Luke Skywalker pops up somewhere else again, you don’t know where he might’ve gone, do you?
Fiolla shook her head. "The Resistance cleaned it up. Replaced its codes. You can't find the Falcon on a scanner now, even a military one. And I've tried.”
True. “Lorrd it is.”
Kylo had already sated his temper’s murderous thirst, and his grip on his ‘saber was loose, its plasma blade and crossguard spitting and hissing. His boots and robes were stained dark to his ankles. Instead of satisfaction, however, Kylo felt only an uneasy sense of impatience, a predator springing after prey that only seemed to get further and further away.
He glanced up as he felt someone approach. It was Ryuri, accompanied by their Lurta agent, frogmarching a Sluissi female before them. The Sluissi’s eyes were dilated with fear, and her fine green scales had paled all down her mottled flank, sooty with sash. Kylo felt his lip curl under his helm with disgust.
“Who is our guest?” Kylo asked curtly.
“Name of Cassa,” said their agent, a slim, thin-boned bald man, dressed in a hunter’s rig, armour and slung pouches and all, no helmet. “She runs a small repairs and broker business on Lurta. Spotted her talking friendly-like to the man and the girl and their R2.”
“Ah-h-h,” Kylo drawled. “So you know Luke Skywalker.”
To the Sluissi’s credit, frightened as she was, she said nothing, even as Kylo curled his free hand into a claw, dragging her inches towards him by the neck. The Force seemed to feed keenly into him, fed by the Sluissi’s fear, by - yes - that kernel of hate that Kylo could see, buried under it all. Fear and anger and hate. That was the key.
“Maybe we should start slicing,” Ryuri suggested, a vibroblade dagger humming in her hand. “Start with that pretty little rattle at the end of her tail and keep going up until we get what we need. It’s all bone and flesh down at the end anyway.”
Cassa whimpered, and abruptly, Kylo grew tired of this. He concentrated, forcing into her mind, sorting roughly through her recent memories, pulling, and even as she screamed, Kylo finally saw it. His uncle’s face, disconcertingly blank, strangely tired. There was none of the fierce vitality that Kylo remembered, no gentleness. Luke Skywalker had already been defeated.
“Dead man walking,” Kylo said aloud, and smiled within his mask as Cassa flinched. “That’s what you thought. But the girl… now, the girl you liked. You saw something in her that reminded you of the old Skywalker. The one you met twenty years ago, when he’d still been chasing a dream.”
Yes. The scavenger was the real threat. Kylo loosed his grip on Cassa’s throat, and she gasped for air, bent at the waist. Flicking off his ‘saber and fastening it to his hip, Kylo waved distractedly at Ryuri. “Do what you want to her. You. With me,” he added, beckoning to the agent, who scurried to his side, blanching as the screaming behind them began.
“Oroni was meant to paint the Falcon’s tail,” the agent said nervously. “But she… I found her dead. Tucked into a fuel bin.”
Kylo nodded slowly, annoyed. Somehow, although the First Order’s agents had managed to ID Luke Skywalker and send Coriolis a message, they’d also failed to tag his ship, which made matters difficult, given that the Resistance had gone to the trouble to scramble the Falcon's ID and codes two months ago. And the tag on Poe Dameron had just gone dark. “Did you find who did it?”
“I…” the agent cringed. “My Lord, I’m still pursuing my inquiries.”
Kylo swung his stare towards the agent, fingers curling. It was tempting to kill him. It would take only a heartbeat. He was growing angry again, and the agents deserved it: failure was not to be tolerated. But even as his grip tightened on his ‘saber, he heard a brisk, “Lord Kylo,” to his right, and reluctantly, carefully, Kylo relaxed.
“Keep pursing them, then,” Kylo said dismissively, and the agent scuttled away, radiating relief. Coward. “General Hux. Again with the hands-on approach. I could get used to this.”
Hux scowled. Soot from the fires had marred his pristine uniform, and dusted ash across one pale cheek. He was accompanied by a pair of stormtroopers, and his hands were pressed behind his back. “Two more pockets of resistance remain. We expect to have control of Lurta City by nightfall.”
“Good.” Kylo wondered why Hux was deferring to him all of a sudden, suspicious. “Should we spare a garrison?”
“The trade route is advantageous - for smugglers. For the First Order, it means a strategic foothold in the Trailing Sectors, close to both the Slice and Wild Space.” A non-answer.
“Skywalker may return, wherever he is. Leave a garrison here. Have forces investigate the outpost to the west. Perhaps the Supreme Leader may find whatever they’re researching amusing.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Hux said tightly. “And what of Skywalker? Twice now we’ve lost his trail.”
Ah. Here it was. The dagger, aimed too quickly. “Quite so. It’s unfortunate that your squadron deployed too late to catch Dameron.”
Hux stiffened. “I did not speak with the intent to criticise.”
“Then I suggest you watch your words more carefully, General,” Kylo shot back bitingly. The General’s eyes flashed: temper again, always that hot temper, and something else, strangely close to black avarice, but under Kylo’s stare, it was Hux who looked away.
“No matter,” Kylo decided. “I do think perhaps that you were right from the start, General.” At Hux’s blink of surprise, Kylo added. “We are wasting our time. Suppressing mining worlds… and now, chasing Skywalker’s tail, running and running in circles. Instead, we should make our enemy come to us.”
Resentment, anger, fear, the wellspring of the dark; Kylo could feel it humming under his skin, guiding his way. Perhaps this was what Snoke had meant about completing his training. It had never been something that Snoke could tell Kylo to do. It was something that had to happen - something that Kylo had to realize, all by himself. A pang constricted his throat, aching, but he swallowed the pain, burned it away. He was not yet fully unbound from his past. But with this - with this he could be.
“How do we do that?”
“Why, General,” Kylo smiled sharply to himself. “There’s still one more Skywalker. And we know exactly where she is.”
“I didn’t. R2 made the calculations based on fragments of old star map records that I’d found over the years, logged into my A-Wing’s data banks. R2 was also the one that triangulated what I thought was the First Temple from the data that I found before. Without an astromech, it wouldn’t be possible.” Luke was poking distractedly through his rations with his synthetic hand, not bothering to eat. Cassa had packed them a crate of dried… fruit(?) of some sort… and Rey chewed briefly on a strip of something alarmingly bright yellow and leathery before eating more of it, delighted. Despite appearances, it was lusciously sweet.
Chewbacca yowled, shaking his head. “I know,” Luke added. “The star pattern’s imprecise, and space is damned big. We could be out here for a while.” He didn’t sound fazed by the issue at all.
“We could be out here for years,” Rey said, aghast.
“Quite likely. There’s a reason why Wild Space is largely unexplored. It’s vast.”
“Couldn’t we scan for planets?” Rey asked Chewbacca, who shrugged heavily and gestured, growling as he did so.
“It’s a question of astrometry,” Luke said indifferently. “We can see where the closest star is from the Falcon’s readouts. If we stay where we are, and observe the movements of the spectral lines-“
“That’ll take years,” Rey cut in. What would happen to the Resistance? “We could… we could head back to D’Qar first,” she suggested, as inspiration struck. “Get some sort of… gear fitout, for deep space explorations, or… something. We could use the Force?” she added hopefully. When Luke started to frown, Rey added quickly, “This is the First Temple of the Jedi right? So it must be really special. Maybe the Force could help.”
“I’ll have R2 link up with the Falcon’s scanners,” Luke patted the astromech on its domed top. “But in the meantime. Perhaps there is something to your suggestion.”
To Rey’s relief, after dinner, Luke motioned for her to sit on the deck of the crew quarters, even as Chewbacca and R2 headed back to the cockpit. He sat in front of her, cross-legged. “Centreing your being,” Luke said, without preamble. “That’s what I was trying to teach you before. I thought it might be harmless enough.”
“The Light, the Dark… the Force itself…” Luke exhaled. “Power corrupts, so very easily. Particularly the young. People as young as you are still feel everything so keenly. To ask you to set entire parts of yourselves aside… to live an ascetic life…”
“I can do it,” Rey assured Luke stubbornly. “You did it.”
“When I was as young as you are?” Luke smiled wryly. “Hardly. I failed as well, test after test. Padawans are impulsive. That’s why they have mentors. But the system is flawed. Easier to make a planet rotate in the opposite direction than to expect the young not to learn what it is to love. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes people walked away. Sometimes…” Luke trailed off, and sighed.
“You think the Force is dangerous,” Rey concluded, astonished. “That’s why you didn’t want to teach me.”
“So much has been forgotten. But the Jedi - and the Sith - were dangerous. Far more dangerous in the years before. There were records of Force abilities that could coordinate entire armadas. That could call storms into being, tear people apart, take over minds completely. All that my… nephew… knows to do is the basics. To move things with your mind, to read the minds of others. There is so much more. And you are so much stronger than he is,” Luke said absently, seemingly oblivious to the way Rey’s jaw dropped. “You could be far more dangerous than Ben could ever be.”
“He seemed plenty dangerous to me.”
“But you bested him in a lightsaber duel, despite having no kata training,” Luke pointed out. So he had been listening after all, the past two months. “You instinctively grasped how to centre your being, during the heat of battle. Giving yourself over to instinct, allowing the Force to guide you as you emptied your mind… the fact that you bested Ben tells me that you are far more Force-sensitive than he is.”
“The Force manifests itself in different ways. My father was very Force-sensitive. Myself, and Leia as well, in varying degrees. My teacher Obi-Wan was strong in the Force. Ben… Ben was Force-sensitive, but he was one of the weakest of all my new padawans. Not that it mattered. One does not need to be strong in the Force to be a great Jedi - a great person. But it weighed on his mind, I think. There was so much pride in him. He wanted to be stronger. He was convinced that I was somehow holding him back.”
“And so Snoke got to him.” Rey concluded, reeling. She was stronger than Kylo Ren? “Pulled him over to the Dark side.”
“Somehow. Yes. For the Jedi, Force powers must never be used to kill. Not directly, anyway, or so I was taught. But what is the difference, one would ask? Using Force-enhanced speed to jump oneself closer to an enemy… or to evade blaster fire before taking his head off with a lightsaber? Directly, indirectly, death is still the end result. What is the difference between Light and Dark, then?”
Rey felt overwhelmed all over again, blinking. “I…” she swallowed. “Maybe there’s no real difference,” she said impulsively. “Maybe what matters is the person. Whether they’re using it for right or wrong.”
“Right, wrong,” Luke smiled humourlessly, tiredly. “Morality is a consequence of upbringing and a byproduct of general opinion. It takes a particular breed of arrogance for anyone to believe himself or herself the arbiter of all that is right and wrong in the universe. Consider this. In the Outer Rim there is a sentient species. Over thousands of years, on its own homeworld, it was considered ‘right’ for it to eat its own young: those born imperfect… whether they were crippled, or born diseased in some way, or even slightly malformed. To that species, which had many young, that was the kinder path. To it, our way, to raise our young no matter what, is the ‘evil’ path. Who is right? Who is wrong? Should they be exterminated? Should we?”
“I don’t know,” Rey confessed. “But can’t we all find a way to get along?”
“Light, Dark, what you speak of is the gray in between. A separate path. Tolerance.” Luke said dispassionately. “Consider something else. There was a great war, a galactic war. Death and murder on both sides. One more than the other. At the end, victorious, one side imposed a treaty on the other for reparations, one that forced them to disarm utterly, leaving them helplessly to defend their own Core worlds from the predations of pirates. One whose strictures for repayments were so great that the losing side was forced to institute crippling taxes on its citizens, empty its treasuries, stop all but critical government spending. Infrastructure crumbled. Companies closed. A recession began. Unemployment was rife, particularly amongst the young. The local law enforcement all but collapsed, painfully underfunded. Resentment grew. Suffering into hatred. More and more found a way to run, to a movement that gave them power again, and purpose.”
“Both sides were wrong…?” Rey hazarded a guess. “There should have been a reconciliation.”
“Could there? Empire Citizens everywhere else were viewed with suspicion. Treated with contempt. In some worlds, with violence. Hatred to hatred. By demonising an entire people, restricting their travel, refusing to aid them, even when their economies were destroyed… by treating them with a blanket of suspicion rather than compassion, by seeing the Empire as evil… with so many disillusioned youth… so it comes again. The wheel turns. A society built upon the back of a military needs an enemy to retain order and cohesion. And we’ve given them that enemy.”
“So what do we do?” Rey demanded. “Just give in?”
“I’ve been thinking about everything. How to break the wheel. But I don’t think it’s possible after all. Not in my lifetime.” Luke closed his eyes briefly. “Just be mindful as you grow into your own. Not to view the world in black and white.”
“I won’t,” Rey promised Luke, bewildered again. She didn’t know what else to say. Luke, however, seemed satisfied with that, nodding gently.
“Now. Imagine the ocean, as great as the universe: before it, within it, you are nothing. Sink yourself completely into it. Rest.”
This didn’t inspire confidence by any means.
Nor, unfortunately, had the sudden explosion in one of the quad engines during their hyperspace jump that had knocked them clean out into real space, spinning wildly until Poe managed to get them stabilised. BB-8 whistled in alarm as another explosion shook the ship, this time to Finn’s right, and Poe whispered “No, no, no-“ as he frantically shut off the engines and routed emergency sealants. The cockpit dimmed, running off power reserves, and Poe unbuckled himself from the seat, darting towards the crew quarters.
They still had grav and air, and nothing seemed broken - not from the inside, anyway. “I could take the vacuum suit and head out,” Finn suggested.
Poe shook his head. “You wouldn’t know where to start with repairs. Hell, it’s beyond fixing with the supplies that we’ve got. We’ve blown the hyperdrive units, damaged all but two of the turbine engines. Life support’s still good but…” He trailed off, uncomfortably. “BB-8, where are we?”
BB-8 linked itself briefly to a port in the side of the quadjumper, then let out a set of querying beeps. “Just our luck,” Poe said grimly. “Wild space.”
“Wild space?” Finn yelped. “Isn’t that uninhabited space? We’re nowhere near anything then!” He headed back to the cockpit, peering out of it. Nothing but the empty dark, dotted with distant stars. “Could we set a distress beacon? Or call the base? Get them to send someone here to get us?”
Poe started to speak, but there was another explosion, this one thumping them violently into the wall, sending the ship into another spin. Poe grabbed wildly for the wall even as the artificial grav cut off, and BB-8 shrilled in alarm, fastening itself hastily to the walls with grapples. Poe had reoriented himself, grabbing struts on the wall of the quadjumper, hauling himself over to the controls of the ship, getting his hand on the flightstick. There was an uncomfortable, coughing thrum, under Finn’s feet, and the ship stabilised, the stars through the viewport now longer whirling madly.
“Uhh. Grav’s out,” Finn said, still floating. “And. That’s not good,” he added, as the light in the crew space dimmed to a dull red. “Red means emergency reserves, right?”
BB-8 gave him another alarmed whistle, but Poe didn’t answer, working frantically at the console until he finally swore something in a language Finn couldn’t understand, and slammed his fist against the transparisteel viewport, loud enough that Finn flinched and nearly lost his grip. “Everything’s out,” Poe said, in a flat voice. “We’ve got the water recycler and life support, but that’s running off emergency reserves. Even the airlock’s bust. Could try the manual release, but I don’t know what good I could do out there and it’ll be venting air we can’t afford to lose.”
“I shouldn’t have chanced a jump. I thought I’d had everything fixed but it was a rush job. Now I’ve killed the both of us and-“
“Hey, hey,” Finn kicked off the wall, cautiously. He’d done zero-grav training, but he’d done it in stormtrooper armour, and forgetting to compensate for no armour nearly overshot him straight into the transparisteel. Steadying himself hastily by grabbing the back of the co-pilot seat, Finn clapped a hand on Poe’s shoulder. “Look. If we’d stayed, we would’ve died. First Order would’ve caught up with us. And it wouldn’t have been pretty. We’ll… we’ll figure this out.”
“Figure what out? I’m a pilot. I’m not a starship mech… I know just enough to make emergency repairs. On an X-Wing. This is the first time I’m piloting a quadjumper, let alone having to repair it, we don’t have a toolkit and-“
“Hey. Calm down.” Finn dragged Poe over, until they were face to face. Seeing the despair on Poe’s face, usually so self-assured, was entirely unsettling. “Hey. I said. We’ll. Figure. It out. Way I see it. We’ve got life support still running. So. Go out in that vacuum suit and see what you can do, right? If we can just get the comm running. If we’re going to die anyway, I don’t wanna go quietly. Maybe BB-8 could go with you. He’s an astromech ‘droid. They got databanks.”
BB-8 whistled, though whether it was encouragingly or in disagreement Finn couldn’t tell. Poe, however, closed his eyes. “You’re right. We’ll go.”
They filled the vacuum suit’s tanks by siphoning off the reserves, and Poe was silent as they manually hauled open the inner airlock, letting Poe and BB-8 through before sealing it. Poe flinched at the decompression as he disengaged the outer lock, then he and BB-8 were through, the ‘droid fastening itself to the hull by grapples then magnetically attaching itself to the side. The moment they were out, Finn rummaged in the supply boxes until he found what he was looking for, then he pocketed it and hauled himself over to the cockpit. Every possible reading was red, and most of the console had been shut off to conserve power.
“Poe?” Finn pressed the internal comms.
“Well, at least that’s working.” Poe’s voice sounded only a little shaky now.
“See. Nothing to it,” Finn said out aloud, as reassuringly as he could.
“You’re not afraid at all,” Poe said, wonderingly. “That’s amazing.”
“Maybe I don’t have the imagination.”
This got a laugh, though Poe sobered up quickly. “Somehow I don’t think that’s the case.”
“Maybe I nearly died so much over that First Order showdown that it got old. Being in fear of my life, that is.”
Another laugh. Finn grinned to himself. He was getting the hang of humour after all. Pity it was coming a little late to do anyone else any good. “I guess this is a bit anticlimatic after you’ve already faced off against a Dark Lord.”
“That’s right. This? This is nothing.” Through the ship, Finn could hear distant, hollow clanking as Poe made his way to the first damaged quadengine.
“Fuck,” Poe whispered. “It’s pretty bad. Whole engine’s mostly gone. Turbine’s exposed, even. All the wiring and the hyperdrive are in bits. It’s ripped through the bottom engine as well.”
“Okay, what about the other side?”
The clanking sounded through the top of the quadjumper, then Poe sighed. “It’s not as bad. But it’s not salvageable, either. Not by me. Damn it.”
“Okay, not the engines then, but can we do something about the comms?”
There was a long pause, then Poe said, in a more subdued voice, “BB-8 wants to try.”
“Well, try it, then. C’mon. You can’t give up. You’re Poe Dameron. Best pilot in the Resistance.”
“And we’re on a dead ship.” There was something in the way Poe said that… something that reminded Finn of himself, only two months and a bit before, when he had even mentioned the First Order.
“We’re not dead yet. Tell him, BB-8.”
BB-8 beeped, having routed itself directly to the internal comms. For the next hour, Finn sat in the pilot’s chair, listening to Poe and BB-8 talking to each other, working on the circuitry. It was, he decided, even a little restful. Death like this held no fear for Finn. His only real regret was that he wouldn’t live to see Rey become a Jedi. How cool would that be? Or… getting to learn how to fly an X-Wing with Poe. Meeting Luke Skywalker. But none of these really burned him. If this was the end, Finn would face it with one of the two people who meant most to him in the ‘verse.
Finn as nearly dozing off when Poe said, quietly, “Finn?”
“The damage’s…” Poe trailed off. “BB-8’s going to keep working on it.”
How long had it been by now? “Uh, shouldn’t you be getting back in here now? That tank’s only good for two hours.”
“That’s what I meant,” Poe said quietly. “Life support in there’s running off emergency. I don’t know how much longer it’ll run, but it’s going to last far longer recycling air for just one person.” BB-8 beeped in alarm. “I messed up, jumping us out here. So-“
“So nothing,” Finn snapped. “Get back in here. I’ll get the airlock. It’s going to be fine, Poe.”
“You think I’m afraid of dying. That’s not it at all. I don’t want you to die.”
“And what good will it do if it stretches out an hour or a day more? I’m still out here with no hyperdrive and no comms.”
“BB-8 might be able to fix-“
“Poe, if you don’t come back in here, I’m going out to get you.”
“You can’t do that. You don’t have a vacuum suit.”
“I’ll hold my breath.”
“That’s not a viable… You’ll get hypoxia! And your blood will boil and you’ll die in-”
“Then you probably should come back in, right?” Finn growled. “I mean it. I’m coming out.”
“Damn it, Finn!”
“BB-8, tell Poe he’s being an idiot.” Obligingly, the astromech beeped loudly. “See. BB-8 agrees with me. You’re outvoted. Now are you coming back, or do I have to go out there?”
Poe was silent for a long while, then he exhaled, irritated, and Finn heard him clanking along the flank of the ship. By the time Poe was back inside, and Finn had engaged the internal air lock, he was pulling off the vacuum suit’s helmet, red-faced with anger. Finn anchored himself by hooking an arm against a grip on the hull, refusing to back down. “Finally-“
Growling, Poe hauled himself over by grabbing the collar of the jacket that he’d given Finn, and even as Finn froze up, willing combat-trained reflexes not to kick in, Poe kissed him hard on the mouth.
“Wha…” Finn sputtered, when Poe let up. “Poe-“
“You drive me crazy sometimes,” Poe snarled.
“Wait… wait is this what you meant when you said you liked me?”
“You could’ve elaborated!”
“Okay. Okay. Getting upset is just going to work the air recyclers harder.”
“I’m not upset,” Poe scowled, clearly lying. “I’m just… I know you like Rey. But if we were both going to die out here, I didn’t want to die without-“
“All right,” Finn interrupted. “Firstly. Rey and I are friends. Just friends, okay? Secondly, I’m pretty sure Jedi don’t do the dating thing. That’s in all the stories, right? Otherwise bad shit and death happens or whatever.” Finn wasn’t really clear about that. All he’d learned about the Jedi was the stuff he’d skimmed off the databanks that General Organa had given him access to.
A smile twitched up in the corner of Poe’s mouth, rueful. “So all this time…”
“Thirdly. Let’s… talk about this when you wake up, okay?”
“Wake up?” Poe began, then stiffened as Finn palmed the hypnocane from his pocket and jabbed it into the side of Poe’s neck. “Finn-“
“If one of us sleeps, we’re not using up as much air, and the recyclers will last longer,” Finn told him, holding Poe close against him. “See you on the other side, Poe.”
Finn waited, until Poe’s breathing had evened out, then he hauled them both back to the cockpit, and strapped Poe down into the closest passenger chair with some manoeuvring and cursing. In the comms, BB-8 beeped curiously, as Finn strapped himself into the pilot’s seat. “Don’t worry about it, BB-8. He’ll just be out for a while. If we do get to call for help and it comes, I’ll carry him out of here.”
Besides, if they were going to die like this, there were harder ways to go than never waking up. Job done, Finn settled back, and waited calmly for rescue or death.
how do we know planets exist: http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/exoplanet-exploration/
exposed squishy human in space: http://listverse.com/2013/07/06/10-things-that-happen-to-an-exposed-human-in-space/
alien morality: the book that opened my mind to this, ironically, given the author (I read it before googling him and reading his cray opinions), is Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead. Ender’s Game and Speaker are incredible books.
They landed in the stolen Star’s Reach transport, because keeping it was probably more trouble than it was worth, and as they disembarked onto the delicate lip of one of the leaf-like landing pads at the main funnel of the spaceyard, they found themselves hustled quickly indoors by security, while a pilot ducked into the transport, probably to get rid of it. Han had vaguely expected to be taken to some large CEO’s office, on the topmost part of the spire, maybe, but they were taken to a jaunt lift, instead, and swept downwards. Maukeen glanced at Han, her eyes slightly narrowed, but Lando and Snips seemed calm.
“Been to Lorrd before?” Han asked Lando, when the four security troopers with them stayed silent. No one was pointing any guns, and Han and the others had been allowed to keep their weapons, but then - or because of that - this many weapons in an enclosed space made Han nervous.
“Lorrd City, yeah. Not out here.”
“On a job for the university?”
“Same. Asked me for a Bothan Sky Dragon egg.” Han grimaced. Acquiring that hadn’t been fun.
“They asked me for a juvenile Zahtjav.”
Han whistled. “You found one of those?”
“Not wild, no. Stole it off King Prana’s zoo.” Lando paused. “Wonder if he ever stopped being pissed off.”
“It’s a wonder that the two of you are still alive,” Snips said dryly, even as the jaunt lift shuddered to a stop, the doors whispering open.
Han had been all over the galaxy, but he gawked as they walked out into an enclosed glass mezzanine, overlooking a massive factory; the chamber was so big that he couldn’t make out the far end. Bits and pieces of starships were being manufactured: here an assembly line creating parts of a hyperdrive, there a long queue of robotic arms, delicately plating part upon part to what looked like a holodeck. Lando also seemed suitably awed, though Snips and Maukeen gave the huge enterprise barely a glance as they were politely but firmly hurried along.
The mezzanine corridor led to a door that they were taken through, though security didn’t follow them through. Within it was some sort of foreman’s office, empty for now, with a bench that held an array of control decks to the left, against the view of the massive manufacturing floor, and a large, long holodeck to the right. Fiolla turned from the holodeck, severe in a dark blue CSA uniform, straight-backed, her hands folded behind her, and she smiled warmly at them, her face lighting up.
“Han. It’s good to see you.”
“Fiolla,” Han grinned. “You’re more beautiful than ever.”
Fiolla merely chuckled. “Welcome as well, General Lando Calrissian… Ranger Maukeen. And Ahsoka Tano.”
“You’re well-informed,” Snips said neutrally.
“Hart and Parn has agents in every major space trade hub,” Fiolla smiled. “Consequence of doing business. We’re based out of Qatamer, but we’ve got a few space yards in orbit across the galaxy. Locked down some nice contracts with a few big players. So I do hear things now and then. Like how there are actually two Resistances. One that everyone knows about, led by the famous Princess Leia Organa. And one that’s been kicking quietly around since the Empire that hardly anyone’s heard of, working along the edges.”
“Where I like it,” Snips nodded. “Had enough of bureaucracy and councils for a lifetime.”
“So I hear.” Fiolla said softly. “Not many people walk away from the Jedi Order without also walking towards the Dark Side.”
Han stared at Snips, startled, but Snips smiled tiredly. “That was a long time ago, Auditor-General. Light and Dark - they’re not the only choices out there.”
“Really?” Han asked sardonically. “Like what other choices? Shades of Gray? Turquoise, maybe? There’s using the Force for good, and there’s the other guys who love wearing black and using red ‘sabers. That’s how the stories tend to go.”
“Stories are convenient ideas that people repeat for their purposes,” Snips’ smile widened. “People have walked away from the Order before.” Her smile faded. “But yes. Sometimes the consequences of that… I do have regrets. Sometimes, I wonder if things could’ve worked out differently if I had stayed. But there’s no use mourning the past.”
“Still,” Fiolla continued mildly. “Given who your master was-“
“You are well-informed. My master?” Snips let out a humourless laugh. “The man I knew is long gone. Long before he took on another name. But he remembered himself at the end. And what do you know, the prophecy was true after all. He did balance the Force - for a time.”
“… Wait,” Han said slowly. “Your master. Was. Darth Vader?”
“He was Anakin Skywalker,” Snips corrected, frowning at Han. “And he was still part of the Jedi when I chose to walk away. He tried to get me to stay. But I knew… the Jedi are right about a lot of things. But they’re also blind, in some ways. I needed to walk my own path. So. Here we are.”
“Here we are,” Fiolla echoed, and this time, her smile was friendly. “I just wanted to hear that from you. So I say again: welcome to Lorrd, Ahsoka Tano.” Snips inclined her head. “Now. Captain Calrissian-“
“Since you saved my boss’ ass,” Lando cut in, “You can call me ‘Lando’.”
“Lando, then. How many pilots do you have in Fulcrum?”
“Uhh, we don’t have the ships after that mess over near the Slice, but… twenty-one? Give or take. Half of those still in training.”
“I’ll have my assistant show you the registry. You’re after X-Wings, I presume. We make some variants here, quite similar, better firepower. You can have your pick. A corvette may also be available.” Lando stared, speechless, and Fiolla sighed. “I know it’s not that much help, given how large Hart and Parn is. But anything bigger than a corvette will be difficult to quietly write off the books.”
“What about the Resistance?” Han asked hopefully. “If you’re full up on X-Wings, we lost a lot of those fighting Starkiller base.”
“Unfortunately, the Resistance is very closely watched,” Fiolla said heavily. “That’s why I had my eye on Fulcrum, instead. Thanks to Tano here, it’s far harder for First Order agents to infiltrate her forces.”
Bloody Force-users. “Right,” Han said, disappointed.
“However, I can still help here and there,” Fiolla added briskly. “Hart and Parn has skip tracer probes everywhere. And we make a great number of even run-of-the-mill freighters and tugs around the galaxy. Like quadjumpers, for example. And we make it a point to help our own, where we can.” At Han’s blank look, Fiolla explained, “While you were transiting from the Farthest Sky, my agents picked up a distress beacon out in Wild Space. Just in time. The air recyclers had cut out.”
“A beacon?” Han asked, still puzzled.
“Cobbled together from circuitry and an internal comms unit by a BB-8 unit, quite ingeniously. One of a kind, I believe it is.” Fiolla grinned. “I think you might be acquainted with its owner.”
No wait. This did kinda make sense.
“So. We’re dead?” Finn asked, and Poe flinched violently. “Damn. Well, we tried. Afterlife seems nice. Smells nice. Very clean.” Someone had even bothered to give them all clean new clothes. Not bad.
“Nice to see you too, kid,” Solo said dryly.
“So… what’s next? Ooh… do we get to haunt people? I know some people whose ass could really use a good haunting.” Certain assholes with red lightsabers, for one.
“Don’t get too excited,” Solo smirked.
“Finn. We’re not dead,” Poe said patiently. “BB-8 managed to build a distress beacon. Short range, but we still got picked up by uh. Solo’s friend. Who apparently owns Hart and Parn, of all things.”
“What can I say,” Solo drawled. “Live long enough and you’ll make all sorts of interesting friends. My life’s not just one long series of bad deals. ‘Sides. She saved my ass too. Had agents in Starkiller base. So we’re two-zip… Kid?” Solo asked cautiously as Finn sat up, wide-eyed. “Everything all right there?”
“You’re alive!” Finn whooped, pouncing, hugging Solo tightly, ignoring his yelp of shock and the chair tilting alarmingly over the tiles. “Oh man. Wait till the General hears about this! Or did you tell her already?”
“Not yet… all still hush-hush with the comm taps… will you get off,” Solo pushed ineffectively at Finn’s shoulders. Finn let go, a little abashed, but Solo patted his shoulder and got up. “Right. There’s some people the two of you should meet.”
“We’ll catch up,” Poe said, his eyes intent on Finn’s face. Solo raised an eyebrow, then he sniffed.
“Kids. Well. Don’t take too long. Y’know what they say about keeping women waiting.” Solo clapped Poe on the arm, and ambled out of the small guest chamber, infodeck still in hand. BB-8 peered up at Poe, then at Finn, then, surprisingly, it trundled off hastily after Solo.
“Before you start,” Finn got to his feet, as Poe advanced, “I hypno’d you in the neck ‘cos you were freaking out and using more air. No hard feelings, right?”
“Should’ve used it on yourself.”
“Sure, like I could trust you not to vent yourself right after or something equally stupid.”
“Stupid, was it?”
“You heard me,” Finn growled, taking the last step, right up against Poe, tugging him over with palms clasped over his cheeks. They bumped noses awkwardly before Poe groaned and tilted his head, then they fit perfectly, and now things slotted into place: Poe’s strange moods, Finn’s own thoughts, like hero worship, but not quite. Poe licked against Finn’s mouth, and Finn let him in, and this was better, wet and messy as it felt, loud in the small room, Poe’s hand stroking up over Finn’s arms, nervously, then settling over his hips, then gliding downwards, hungry, to knead his ass. Whoa.
“Too fast?” Poe asked, when Finn jerked his head back for air, lip caught in his teeth, and Finn kissed him again to answer him, squeezing his eyes shut. Wow. He was kissing Poe Dameron. Few weeks back, Finn would never have believed it. Poe kissed like a starving man afraid that that crumbs he’d found would be stolen away at any moment, his groans choked up and fractured against Finn’s mouth, every unsteady breath snatched between their lips like a grateful prayer. The world around them both no longer seemed to matter; his own blood felt hot under his skin.
“If I had more time,” Poe panted against his mouth, “I’d go down on my knees, right now.” He kissed Finn hard on the lips. “Get you in my mouth.”
It took Finn a long moment to parse that. “You mean my… Isn’t that kinda uh. Unhygienic?”
Strangely, Poe laughed, husky and deep, his stare intense with naked reverence. Lust. “The things I could show you-“
“Hey kids,” Solo’s voice cut in over the comms, very dryly. “When I said ‘Don’t take too long’ I actually meant it.”
Poe scowled, and Finn couldn’t help it - he started grinning. “C’mon. Let’s go see what the old man wants.”
Outside, a security guard led them briskly through the neat, elegantly decorated corridors of what was clearly some sort of guestroom complex, and into a jaunt lift, heading upwards. They emerged into a domed, high-ceilinged room, with five arched exits leading out to landing pads. Solo was slouched into a divan at the centre, BB-8 behind him, and strangers were seated more primly on chairs and other divans around him: a dark skinned, silver-haired old man to Solo’s left, and a wrinkled Togruta female to his right. Behind her loomed a huge silver and black Trianii female, probably a Ranger, given the blaster at her hip and the rifle at her back, and opposite Solo was a dark haired human female, middle-aged at best, wearing a CSA uniform, rising as Finn and Poe were escorted into the room.
“The famous Poe Dameron,” said the CSA woman, smiling in welcome.
“You must be Auditor-General Hart-and-Parn Gorra-Fiolla.” Poe greeted her. “Thanks for the save.”
“Just ‘Fiolla’ will do.”
“This is Finn, also of the Resistance,” Poe introduced Finn.
Fiolla’s face clouded briefly. “Ah yes. Apologies about the sedation, Finn. We needed you both under while we checked out the ship logs and the situation. We’ve had pirates string out our own ships as bait before. So we usually hypno-gas a ship with no comm response before boarding. Standard procedure.”
“No harm done, lady. Thanks for the save, I owe you one.”
Poe nodded. “Solo tried to bring me up to speed. ‘Far as I can tell… there’s a second Resistance called, uh, Fulcrum, a bigger one, led by um, Ahsoka Tano here, who… used to be a Jedi-“
“What?” Finn blinked at the wrinkled little lady, who smirked at him with elegant amusement.
“-and General Lando Calrissian over there… and you’re going to give them squadrons of starfighters and maybe a corvette, but you’re not going to give the actual Resistance anything?”
“Told you he wasn’t gonna hold back,” Solo chuckled.
“I’m going to return them their best pilot,” Fiolla raised her eyebrows. “Besides. As matters stand, I do believe it’s in the best interests of the galaxy for General Organa to get over her disillusionment with galactic politics, and return to what’s left of the New Republic. Were she to suddenly have her own armada again, what we’ll have is three factions, all with their own agenda.”
“Someone telling Leia what to do? That’ll be the day,” Solo muttered.
“Also, you own Hart and Parn Starships. I know you guys build cruisers and frigates.” Poe added sharply. “You build generation ships, even. I’ve heard about the massive one you built for some of the Church of the Force. The one they rode out of this galaxy on, heading for the Silver River. So you’ve definitely got the capacity to build star destroyers.”
“I like this guy,” Lando stage-whispered to Solo. “Someone drops a gift-bantha in our lap and he asks for it to be gold-plated.”
“I have agents and probes everywhere but deep in First Order territory,” Fiolla retorted evenly. “Starkiller base may not be the only galactic weapon that they possess-”
“Speaking of that,” Tano said thoughtfully. “What in the name of the Force is wrong with these people? What’s with all these round superweapons that have a single flaw that can be exploited by a single starship? And what’s the point of going to all the expense of Starkiller base anyway? Once they’ve drained their star, isn’t that it? Aren’t they stuck with a dormant ice ball of a base?”
“… Don’t ask me ma’am,” Finn said awkwardly, into the silence, wondering if the question was directed at him. “Never really thought about it.”
“The word on the vine is that the Supreme Leader wasn’t even entirely concerned about Starkiller base being destroyed,” Fiolla said grimly.
“Too much to hope that he just doesn’t know that he’s been beat, then,” Lando said gloomily.
“Technically he hasn’t,” Maukeen said gruffly. “I am not surprised that Supreme Leader was not concerned. Starkiller base did what it was made to do. It destroyed Hosnian Prime and its ancillary planets without incurring any First Order casualties. And it destroyed part of the New Republic’s fleet. Now the First Order has the greatest Navy and army in the galaxy. Even if Hart and Parn openly commit all their ships to the war. It was an opening salvo. The rise of a new Empire.”
“Trust a Ranger to go straight for the throat,” Fiolla said soberly. “But yes, that’s where we stand. Even without Starkiller base, should the First Order choose to invade in full force, the Corporate Sector could make the war costly, but ultimately, we would lose. Especially against enemies ruthless enough to disregard the cost of civilian life. That’s why we can’t openly arm the Resistance. But a second Resistance, one that no one’s heard of? That’s easier.”
“I’m disappointed,” Poe said bluntly. “But I see your point.”
“However, I do want to return you to the Resistance. And while I can’t give the Resistance a fleet, I can give you a ship.” Fiolla beckoned, and they all followed her out to the archway to her right, over a landing pad that sat over the wide banks of clouds, a pale silver under the early afternoon light, a gentle sea that stretched thinly around them, the biosphere dome of the city below their feet. The air was chilly and thin.
At the end of the landing pad was a ship like nothing Finn had ever seen. Lengthwise, it was at least as long as the Falcon, but angular at the edges, like the flat diamond-shaped head of a viper. Two great knife-life ventral fins sat to either side of a globular transparisteel cockpit, and against its flanks were two extended sets of missile banks, like banked wings, with a quad laser turret at its belly under a gunner cradle. Its smooth, radar-deflecting flanks were painted a deep charcoal black, and it sat low against the launchpad, like a hunched predator. This was a ship built for a very specific sort of war.
“Minimum crew, one pilot,” Fiolla said briskly, into the stunned silence. “Total passengers, eight. Astromech slots in behind the cockpit. State-of-the-art sensory arrays, fully functional med bay, crew quarters for eight, workshop, cargo space or training room. Quad laser on the belly, missile payload includes standard concussive and starbolt missiles. And a cloaking device, powered by stygium crystal. Military-grade shields. Clean ship codes. And a Waiver for CSA space, of course.”
“It’s a… really modified Imperial Transport?” Poe breathed. “Impressive.”
“Nothing like any transport I’ve ever been on,” Finn disagreed.
“We didn’t build her. That’s why I’m giving her to you. She can’t be traced to us,” Fiolla conceded. “We found her, actually. Hart and Parn called in a lot of bad debts after the Empire collapsed, and this was in one of the tranches. We upgraded parts of her, fixed the rest, and here she is. According to her shipboard log, she was once called the Rogue Shadow. I was going to give her to Solo,” she added, amused. “But he refused.”
“Flashy thing, that one,” Solo smirked. “What would I do with a ship like that? Besides, I’ve got a ship already. Still,” he added, to Poe, “If your ‘droid has the new codes to my ship, maybe you could drop me off with the Falcon before hotting back to the Resistance.”
“Rogue Shadow, huh? I like that,” Poe said, grinning fiercely. “I think we’ll get along just fine.”
I actually did enjoy the Force Unleashed game… the first one, anyway, because sheer destructive Dark Side power, fiddly controls aside. So I thought I’d like to have (my) ship in this ‘verse. Even if I’m not going to have any of the other characters in the story. ^^
For those who aren’t familiar with the games… Star Wars games actually have better trailers (IMO) than even the films. Like so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPdJdEFilaU The Old Republic. And KOTOR 1 and 2 are great games. :) Even if I think they’re no longer considered canon either.
This is a two chapter update :) so head to the next part when you're done!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Now, however, Han was content to sit by the crew’s table and deal a hand of sabacc cards. Poe had invited Han to the co-pilot’s seat, but one glance at the cockpit had told Han that the Rogue Shadow didn’t actually need a co-pilot unless the missile bank controls needed to be farmed out, given there was an astromech slot, so he’d told Poe to knock himself out and had retired to the crew’s quarters.
Maukeen had opted to come with them, for reasons Han still wasn’t too sure of. He’d been hoping that Snips would come - the more Jedi the better - but she’d smiled mysteriously and said something about having nothing to prove.
Togruta ex-Jedi or not, Han knew that he was never ever going to understand women. As to the big Trianii, Maukeen was taking up most of her side of the curved crew seats, tail flicking on the ground, drawing her hand of sabacc cards close to her furry chest.
“I still don’t get the rules,” Finn said doubtfully, as he picked up his own hand.
“Kid, I’ve explained the rules to you three times.” Han said patiently.
“And I still don’t get it. What’s the point of cards that change their value each time a new game starts?”
“Means you cannot cheat,” Maukeen growled, “By marking a deck beforehand.”
There were ways to cheat anyway, but Han kept those to himself. “It’s just a game, kid. Play a few rounds, you’ll get the hang of it.”
They were probably going to play quite a few rounds, by the looks of it. The Rogue Shadow’s onboard scanners had placed the Falcon’s new shipcodes somewhere in Wild Space, but dropping out of hyperspace hadn’t actually put them anywhere near the Falcon, or anywhere at all. Thankfully, onboard scanners had indicated a planet a few days’ burn away, so they were heading towards it on a comfortable thrust.
Han didn’t really mind, impatient as the kids were. The Rogue Shadow was equipped with the latest in Hart and Parn replicators, which meant that shipboard rations could be pretty much anything that Han wanted, even coffee. Also, it wasn’t as though getting there any quicker was going to help, if Chewbacca and Rey had been on their own for this long. And besides, they had Luke. A Jedi Grandmaster. What could go wrong?
Days later, when they landed planetside, Han was pretty sure that he’d jinxed it all.
The Rogue Shadow had found the Falcon by tracking heat signatures, and had set down close to it, on the bank of a high plateau, next to a grayish sea. The beach far below was a strange, glassy black, like crushed obsidian, and the grass below their feet was oddly springy, and a strange pinkish blue. Behind them was a vast forest of gnarled plant-life, all white trunks and glorious crimson and gold leaves, a sweeping blanket of colour that ran riot all the way to distant pale peaks.
Life support aboard the Falcon was still running, which was how they’d found it, but the ship was totally empty. What. The fuck.
Han sat down heavily at the crew’s bench, exhausted, as they gathered back in the crew quarters of the Falcon. They’d spent an hour going through all the hidden crawlspaces and smuggler’s holds aboard the Falcon, and checked the ship’s log. Nothing. No Wookie, no astromech, no pair of Jedi. Maukeen ambled up to him, her tail lashing, nervous. “Life-scents are old,” she said curtly.
“And the ramp was down, left wide open.” Han muttered. “If they’d all gone out exploring, Chewie would have locked the ship down.”
“‘Droid tracks lead out south.” Into the red forested sea. “I can follow them.”
“Right.” Han shook off the dull fear that had settled over him. “Let’s get armed to the fucking teeth and go looking for our friends.”
“I’m coming with you,” Finn added quickly.
“Nope. You and Dameron are going back into that fancy ship, and you’re going to run some recon for us. See if you can’t sniff out what the problem is. Dameron probably knows the drill.”
“Roger that.” Poe said uncomfortably. A pilot to the bone, the empty ship clearly spooked him. “I’ve run my share of recons.”
“‘Course,” Han added, “If anything crops up that the Rogue Shadow can’t handle, skip offworld. Don’t worry about us, okay? We’ve still got the Falcon, and the Resistance needs that shiny stealth ship more than us. Don’t be a hero.”
“You could fly the Falcon,” Poe suggested. “Maukeen here can be your gunner. We can both sweep and search from the air.”
“Forest cover’s too thick and we might lose the tracks that way. Better if the two of us work the ground. Won’t be my first rodeo. Bet it ain’t Maukeen’s, either.”
Maukeen grinned, baring sharp canines. “Worry about yourself, old man.”
“All right, Solo.” Poe looked even more unhappy. Now he wasn’t just a pilot in a ghost ship, he was going to leave a fellow pilot grounded on a ghost world. “We’ll see what we can do.”
“Clear skies,” Han told Poe, in the traditional pilot’s farewell, and Poe nodded tightly, heading down the ramp with Finn at his heels.
The Rogue Shadow raised ship just as Han and Maukeen armed themselves with as much as they could carry from the Falcon’s stores, and as they headed out, the black ship was still rising up, towards the clouds. After a pause, the stealth generator kicked in, and Han actually had to squint, eyes watering, to pick out the ship’s outline against the pale orange sky. Good. Whatever might’ve gotten to Chewie and the others planetside, if they were hostile - they were just about to get a nasty surprise.
“Kinda wish your bosslady came with us now,” Han said, when they got to the tree line.
Maukeen grunted. “Preparing to fight galactic war, more important than finding one retired Jedi and one maybe-padawan.”
“If you put it that way.”
“Hear General Organa pins great hope on finding her brother.” Maukeen shrugged. “Why? One Jedi does not change much in the scheme of things. This is not a holofilm. Better to build diplomatic ties. Raise big fleet. What can one retired Jedi do?”
“Criticising the General to her face when she’s hellbent on an idea never works.”
Maukeen let out a chuffing laugh. “She is your mate.”
“Was. Was. And you could say that gave me a front-row seat to the way she is. Why’d you come along, then, if you think this is a waste of time?”
“Diplomatic attache.” Maukeen grinned toothily at Han when he stared up at her. “Looks like we are all going to be happy allies. So I am here as a representative.”
“You mean you know you’re gonna be bored back there while Snips and Lando and Fiolla negotiate terms and handover and whatever,” Han said dryly. “I know Fiolla. She might be speaking all high and mighty now about giving you guys the ships, but she’ll want some kind of agreement in writing, tons of terms and conditions.”
Maukeen shrugged her huge, furry shoulders, and grinned again. “Maybe yes. Thought I might be bored. Besides. First Jedi Temple. Sounds interesting.”
“I was hoping it would be boring,” Han said sadly. “That we’d come here and find Chewie, Luke and the others having a campfire on some old ruin. Drinks all around.”
“You? You are Han Solo. Survivor of hundreds of adventures.”
“Yeah, well, I never start off wanting to have an adventure,” Han grunted. “That’s the best way to get yourself killed, fuzzball.” He toggled the comm link in his ear. “How’s things up there, Dameron?”
“We’ve got nothing,” Poe reported over the comms. “Scanners show some sort of structure along the way you’re headed. Can’t tell what it is, though. Seems like it’s mostly underground. There’s some sort of interference. Same kind that scattered the Falcon’s signal.”
“All right. Keep looking. And keep this channel on.”
Static crackled briefly over the headset. “-opy that, S-“
Han glanced up, glaring at the mottled specks of sunlight that managed to get past the thick crimson canopy. Within the forest there was little light, odd given that all was shielding them from the sun was just leaves. They were picking their way over thick, ropy pale gray roots, each as thick as one of Maukeen’s thighs, and the world was lit in a dim twilight that smelled weirdly sweet, like burning sugar.
“Once,” Maukeen said, as she hopped lightly over a root, “I saw Ahsoka take out a squad of stormtroopers by herself. They were raiding one of our resupply allies. Didn’t know about us, of course. Just happened that we were there.”
“Really? What’d she do?”
“She lifted their transport with a gesture and threw it right at them. It crushed them all.”
“That little old lady?” Han blinked. “Well. I guess I could believe that. The things I saw back in the day, with the Rebel Alliance… Also, Luke had this teacher, called him Yoda… apparently he lifted Luke’s X-Wing out of a swamp.”
“Yes. The famous Master Yoda.” Maukeen’s tail swished. “I wonder. Jedi are very powerful, yes? You have seen it. I have seen it.”
“Uh, yeah. Well. Your boss doesn’t think she’s a Jedi anymore, though. Not that I thought it was something you could quit doing.” Then again, wasn’t that what Luke effectively did? At least Snips had started her own version of the Resistance. As far as Han knew, Luke had gone off to sit in a quiet planet for at least a decade.
Maukeen waved a paw-hand dismissively. “And this… First Temple, it is abandoned?”
“Assuming this is the First Temple. Seems like it. We didn’t see any structures coming in, or any heat signatures that looked like cities or settlements.”
“So if the Jedi are so powerful, and this was their temple,” Maukeen’s ears twitched back and forth, “What could have chased them away?”
“… Thanks, Maukeen,” Han said dryly. “If I wasn’t already worried, I would be now.”
Glancing up at the snorting sound of some distant load beast, Rey looked right into the blank, liberally wrinkled face of Marsa Col, one of the oldest human scavs in Niima Outpost, her sparse hair bound back by a dark headscarf. As always, Marsa stared right back at Rey, neither friendly nor unfriendly, and said nothing. Rey ducked her head, not wanting to draw attention, and scrubbed harder.
Then, to her surprise, Marsa murmured, “Rey.”
Rey looked around, concerned, but Plutt’s mech boys were prowling around the outer fringes of the scrub zone, oblivious. “Marsa?”
“Look deeper, Rey,” Marsa whispered. “This isn’t your now. Come back.”
Rey stared at the old woman with surprise, even as an uneasy stir of vertigo swept her, making her blink and rub at her eyes with the back of her palm. “What did you say?” Rey hissed, but Marsa merely blinked at her again, blankly, and went back to scrubbing.
The queue for Plutt’s booth wasn’t that long today, which was a good sign. Plutt’s prices tended to turn arbitrary if he had to deal with a crowd, particularly if anyone in front sold the same thing. By the time a Rodian left, clutching a couple of portions to his chest, Rey was feeling slightly hopeful about having two portions, though she didn’t smile as she unloaded her scrubbed finds on Plutt’s counter. Plutt glanced at her, narrow-eyed, then at the scrap, then he snorted and swept it off into interior storage.
“You’ve become unstuck, Rey,” Plutt said quietly, with more gentleness in his usually curt tone than Rey had ever heard. “Come back.”
“What?” Rey blinked, and Plutt stared at her in annoyed surprise.
“I said, one and a half portions,” Plutt growled. “Got a problem with that?”
“No.” Quickly, Rey gathered the metal slabs, and scurried off, squirrelling her payment within her vest.
As she left Plutt’s store, she stumbled for a moment, startled and horrified. Niima outpost was in flames. Charred bodies lay scattered on the dust, tents and habs had been blown up or were on fire. People ran around in blind panic, screaming. She blinked rapidly, ready to backpedal into the store, and then, abruptly, it was all gone. Same old Niima Outpost, scavs trundling tiredly back and forth, trying to avoid the burning heat of the sun.
Getting home was a relief. As Rey unloaded her gear gratefully and put the pot on boil, she sat back against the hull, breathing out, scrubbing a hand over her face. Heat stroke, maybe. That was probably it. The Jedi-robed doll on her shelf seemed to agree, its tiny stick-like body propped precariously against the wall. Then, to Rey’s dull horror, the little doll turned its head towards her.
Rey, said a weary male voice in her head. The Force is reacting to your mind, Rey. Calm yourself. Look inward-
“Go away!” Rey shrieked, scrambling up to her feet, then she yelped at the sudden rush of vertigo, the ground spinning, and she fell heavily onto her rump onto the sand, gasping. Her voice seemed lighter, thinner, and as she looked up - and up - Unkar Plutt seemed far, far bigger than she remembered and- her face was wet with tears-
“Something’s changing,” Plutt murmured, face tilted upwards, frowning as the freighter in the sky banked, turning around. “This isn’t what you remember.”
“They’re… they’re coming back!” Rey gasped in delight. “They’re coming back for me!”
“Rey,” Plutt said gravely, but Rey wasn’t listening. She was running forward over the sand, waving her little hands, whooping, screaming. Her heart felt like it would burst with relief and joy, her eyes streaming with tears. They were coming back! They. Who were they? Did she care? Did it matter?
“Rey!” Plutt called, behind her, in an oddly different voice, a more human one. “Your friends need you, Rey.”
She turned, but Plutt was throwing up his hands with a gruff grunt, stamping back towards Niima Outpost in disgust. The deal, whatever it was, was obviously off. Rey wasn’t going to be left behind after all. The freighter was banking down, initiating landing procedures, settling down on the sand, venting steam. Rey darted over, excited, as the landing ramp lowered… then she stumbled to a halt, wide-eyed, as a black-robed figure strode out of it, in a black helmet, a sword of red light in his hand (a lightsaber, whispered a voice at the back of her mind) that spat and hissed in his grip.
He strode menacingly forward, towards her, and as Rey backpedaled, she nearly tripped on a corpse behind her. The sky had gone dark, rain lashing the ground, and she was in a deep forest all of a sudden, the grass wet with rain and blood and littered with corpses, she was-
“Rey,” whispered the corpse at her feet. “First the Light, then the Dark. Centre yourself. Remember the ocean. Now.”
The ocean? Rey turned and ran, towards the tree line, gasping, stumbling. “Stay away from me!” The ocean-
She fell face-first into water on the next step, and coughing, sputtering, nearly went under. Splashing wildly, trying to keep her head above water like Chewie had shown her, Rey blinked water out of her stinging eyes, gasping in shock. She was surrounded by water, as far as the eye could see. And below her feet, swirling idly, was a deep shadow, sinuous and thick. Panicking, Rey tried to paddle forward, coughing, spitting water, and flinched as a silver-scaled fish surfaced up out of the water (a Finnfish, murmured her mind), right beside her.
You have to control yourself, murmured the Finnfish, somehow. It’s now or never.
“There’s a megapred down there!” Rey splashed towards the Finnfish. “We have to go, Dosmit!”
No there isn’t. Only a shadow of your mind. Fear given flesh through the Force. Calm yourself. Centre yourself.
Calm. How could Rey be calm? She was on the verge of drowning. Or getting eaten, maybe. But the Finnfish popped up around her, poking their heads out of the water, none of them below, scanning for preds. Watching her. Reluctantly, gritting her teeth, Rey closed her eyes. She was in the ocean. She was the ocean. There were no silver alien minds beside her, or even the deep, hungry mind of a megapred, not really: only the impression of them, like afterimages. But there were other minds, out there. Chewie. Luke. A stranger. And… Han Solo? He was alive?
Yes. Luke sounded amused in Rey’s mind. Han does have a knack of defying the odds, doesn’t he? Pull them to you. Then come to me.
Pull them… Rey opened her eyes, breathing out, and she concentrated, breathing deep. One moment she was still splashing awkwardly, the next she was a Finnfish, a large one, her eyesight lined up everywhere, in all directions, disorienting at first until she knew. She spun in a tight, joyous circle, glorying in her new speed, then she floated in the sea, concentrating again. A bulky brown fish, twice her length, its scales fine like tiny furs, spun into being beside her, thrashing awkwardly for a moment before it righted itself, and it sang to her, churring and low. Then a sleeker, sharp-nosed fish, silver with black spots, built like a predator, all teeth, darting wildly beneath them in the waves before it noticed them, gliding up curiously, wary, but not friendly. And finally a small gray fish with long narrow fins, built for speed, that froze in the water beside the Chewiefish until it calmed down.
What the hell? The Solofish demanded. Wow, fuck. I’ve done some benders over the years but this is a fucking trip and then some.
I do not like being a fish, said the sharp-nosed… Maukeenfish, that was its name. This is unnatural. The Chewiefish growled.
Come, Rey told them, diving for the deeps. The mind she shared knew where she was meant to go. Dosmit had been there before, many times, to take presents for the EarthSkyFish, the kind one, and the empty one.
Why am I so tiny compared to you guys? The Solofish complained. Do I even have teeth? This is so depressing. It kept close to the Chewiefish, which huffed a deep laugh. Where’s Luke?
Come, Rey ignored the questions, diving faster. During the descent, the Maukeenfish crowded protectively closer to her as the shadows of megapreds swept past in the distance, hunting, the great hunger of their afterimage-minds never sated, but Rey ignored them all, searching. Here, the ocean floor was sand, with a few crustaceons scuttling slowly across, sharp claws waving in warning as they passed.
Nice to see you too, you big lug, the Solofish was saying, as the Chewiefish bumped repeatedly and affectionately into its flank. But fish hugs are not fun when you’re tiny. Stop it. Later, all right?
They were closing in on some sort of underground structure, once part of a column of land that had been broken away up top or weathered down. It wasn’t as large as Rey thought it would be, the Second Temple: it was maybe only slightly larger in circumference than the Millennium Falcon. The First Children had fled here, but there had been nowhere really to flee to. There was only a different kind of drowning.
Part of the roof was gone, and allowing them to swim inside. Most of the temple seemed to be the wrecked shells of narrow rooms, personal effects scattered where they lay: here a painted cup, chipped with age, there a coral-overgrown toy. The Solofish was nosing over the broken conical model of what looked like some kind of ancient starship, as big as it was. Huh. I think I saw a painting of that in the Lorrdian University. Remember, Chewie? Way back when there wasn’t such a thing as a hyperdrive. The Chewiefish nodded.
Why are we here? asked the Maukeenfish, but Rey ignored it, swimming deeper into the building, looking for a way down. She found the shattered mouth to the vault within one of the rubble-strewn rooms, and dived in, the others coming in behind her, reluctant. It was pitch dark in the vault, and Rey concentrated, until the bioluminescence in her translucent eye-membranes lit up, painting the room in very faint shades of multi-coloured light.
Luke was standing beside one of the vault walls, reading the strange hieroglyphs carved onto the rock, faded by time. He turned to look at them as Rey approached, and although his hair was floating around his face, he moved with his feet on the ground as though he was on the surface, and no bubbles rose from his mouth as he spoke. “Good work.”
How come you get to be human? The Solofish darted over, right up into Luke’s face. Damn. You look old, Luke.
Luke smiled, the first warm smile that Rey had seen from him. “Han. It’s good to see you. I’m glad you’re not dead.”
Yeah well, this better don’t mean that I’m a fucking fish forever, the Solofish shot back. I’m never eating fish again as it is.
Do you have what you came for? Rey asked, for immersed in raw Force, like this, within the churning wellspring of the First Temple, was to know everything, the vastness of everything, from something as infinitesimal as Luke’s motives, to the eternal whispered songs of the stars. She would not remember much of this when she was awake, she knew, and for that she was already sorry.
“I do.” Luke pressed a palm to the wall, as though in regret, then he set his jaw, and the blank weariness in his eyes was gone. “Now. Wake up.”
on to the next chapter~~
WARNING: References to minor offscreen character deaths
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The command shook the ocean, sudden currents shoving Han up, and up, ignoring the futile flaps of his tail, and then suddenly he was on land, flopping on rock, gasping, he couldn’t breathe… and… wait.
“Hands!” Han crowed. “Feet and hands!”
He coughed and laughed, trying to get up, only to find himself scooped to his feet and crushed into a hug, Chewie roaring deep, joyous bellows against him. Han thumped the Wookie’s back, his eyes stinging with tears, then he yelped as he got a mouthful of Wookie fur, the ground heaving under their feet and knocking them both sprawling.
“It’s an earthquake!” Maukeen was also on her feet, hauling a groggy-looking Rey to hers. They were in a small stone chamber, the walls polished smooth, the shape egg-like, with no windows, and only one exit outwards, in a narrow stair. Luke had rolled onto his back, groaning and rubbing his eyes, and even as Han tried to get to his feet again, there was a deep, tearing moan, from within the earth, and the distant sound of torrential water.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Han muttered, crabbing over to Luke’s side and dragging him up, motioning to Chewie as Luke stumbled heavily against him. Chewbacca growled, pulling Luke’s arm up, making as though to support him, but Luke staggered away, gasping, blinking unsteadily.
“Whatever it is, let’s get to the Falcon!” Rey was already darting towards the stairs, Maukeen behind her. Luke blinked owlishly for a moment more before following, and relieved, Han kept close. R2-D2 beeped and shook at them anxiously at the top of the stair, turning awkwardly as they raced past, then it let out a shrill whistle of alarm as, with a gesture, Luke lifted the droid up into the air and floated it up beside them. They piled out of the stairs, breathless, the ground cracking and heaving around them, deep fissures opening in the gray twilight of the strange forest, swallowing entire trees. Chewbacca bellowed urgently as they ran, stumbling, sometimes knocked clean off their feet as the cliff tilted, heaving, like an animal shaking itself awake.
Praying that the Falcon was still perched where she was, Han dragged Luke back up and they kept stumbling, struggling on. Rey and Maukeen were faring better, light-footed, pulling in front, and as the air felt like it was burning in Han’s lungs, he heard Poe’s voice crackle in over the comms.
“Better run faster,” Poe said anxiously. “The ground’s breaking up. Water’s pouring out of some sort of old ruin in the rock.”
“Thanks… for the advice…” Han grit out, as he jumped over a root, “Like I couldn’t tell… that I was meant to be fucking running…!”
“The Falcon’s still fine,” Poe sounded a little hurt. “But only barely. The Shadow doesn’t have a tractor beam, or I’d try to hold her steady. She’s wobbling, though.”
“Just shut up, Dameron!”
They broke through the tree line, Rey and Maukeen already scrambling up the ramp, and the Falcon shuddered again as the ground heaved, teetering close to the edge. They were so close. Han felt his heart drop to his stomach as the Falcon started to tilt, her nose tipping up, then her engines kicked in, a bank of blue fire grinning from her drive exhaust, steadying up. Chewie scrambled aboard, still bellowing, with Luke and Han on his heels, R2 whistling again in alarm as it shot past in the air and into the ship, and not a moment too soon: the ground was toppling away, sinking, water gushing out in gigantic waves, rolling out under them and into the sea in a rumbling roar of white foam. As the landing ramp pulled up right behind him, Han thought that he saw a gigantic shadow of some huge fish, bigger than the Falcon, dragged helplessly under.
Han all but threw himself into the pilot’s seat. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” Rey nodded tightly, not even arguing, strapped into the co-pilot seat as they took the Falcon up, arcing through the clouds, the Rogue Shadow on their heels, slowing down to a low thrust only when they were in orbit.
“Wow,” Rey breathed. “Look at that.”
Behind them, visible through the transparisteel, the wide arc of the planet’s blue surface was slowly swallowing the blot of land that they’d just left, reddish and gray from orbit, then a foamy white, then blue.
“Holy hell,” Finn’s voice cut in through the comms. “Did you see that?”
“Finn!” Rey patched the two ships into a closed link. “Are you in that other ship? Wow! What kind of ship is that?”
“Me an’ Poe are,” Finn said, sounding relieved. “You’re all right? How’s… did you find Luke? Is Chewie there? Solo’s alive, how crazy is that?”
“Steady on,” Han said dryly. “Yes, Luke’s here, Chewie’s fine, I’m alive. We all up to speed now?”
“So we’re… heading back to D’Qar, right?” Poe asked, sounding a little unsteady. “All that water eating up that bit of land… was that the Force…?” Clearly unspoken was, if Luke Skywalker doesn’t want to go to D’Qar, can we make him?
“Let’s all set course to D’Qar,” Han decided. He was going drag Luke back to Leia if he had to do it himself. “See you guys on the other side.”
Once they had engaged the hyperdrive, Han pushed himself up from the pilot’s seat, nodding to Rey and heading out - or he tried to. Rey had also unstrapped herself from her seat, grinning hugely, hugging Han tightly as he flinched. “Glad you’re okay,” she told him, and settled back in the co-pilot’s chair.
“No one’s more glad of that than me,” Han told her, then he yelped as Chewbacca strode out of the access tunnel, bellowing as he hugged Han tightly enough that Han’s ribs ached. “I can’t… breathe… you walking… carpet… let me up… glad to see you too,” Han added, as Chewbacca let go of him. “Glad to see all of you.”
Luke was waiting in the crew’s quarters, Maukeen perched on one of the benches, and he smiled as Han walked up to him. He was so much older, worn, even, grizzled and gray, but there was something of the mischief that Han remembered from before, the fierceness. “Han.”
“Hey kid,” Han hugged Luke to him tightly, breathing in, that spicy, faint male musk of him.
“Been a long time since anyone called me that,” Luke murmured.
“Why’d you go sit on a rock for so long?” Han patted Luke’s back and pulled off. “Worried the hell out of your sister.”
“I’m glad to see that you’re back,” Luke said, instead of answering. “Rey told me she found you and Chewie on some trawler, transporting dangerous animals.”
Han snorted, though he couldn’t keep from grinning, almost giddy with happiness. Luke hadn’t seemed to have changed - not much anyway. For a brief moment, it felt as though the clock had turned back, when they were younger and reckless and more naive, to that transcendent moment of euphoria after they’d destroyed the first Death Star. Looking back then, with Luke and Chewie by his side, cheered by the world, Han knew that had probably been the happiest he’d been. Time had such a way of eroding away happy endings.
“Yeah, got bored of all that,” Han said finally. “I’m back. What about you?”
Luke nodded, his expression growing briefly abstracted. “I found what I was looking for.”
“What, in that hallucinogenic temple thing?” Han asked suspiciously, then he flinched as Rey popped up by his arm. “The hell was all that business about fish?”
“I asked Rey here to remember the ocean. I didn’t actually mean it viscerally,” Luke said dryly. Rey blushed.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to destroy everything!”
“Or turn us into fish?” Maukeen growled, from the table.
“Everything!” Rey confessed. “I didn’t mean to sink the temple!”
“That wasn’t your doing.” Luke paused. “Well, not entirely. The First Temple is a concentrated well of the Force… possibly the original seed from which the Force began. Meshing our minds into it has had unforeseen effects.”
“Could say that again.” Han said sourly. “Never had a planet try to drown me before.”
“And you say you do not look for adventures,” Maukeen grinned.
“Did you see it?” Rey asked Luke earnestly. “The right path? How to break the wheel?”
Luke glanced at her, then to Han, his expression sober again. “I did. I told you once that Master Yoda could see the future,” he added, when Han frowned at him. “Fragments of it. I’ve had visions as well. It’s how I knew to come to Cloud City.”
Han pulled a face. Cloud City had given him too close an experience with carbonite for one lifetime. “I remember.”
“I wanted to find the First Temple so that I could find the strength to see further,” Luke said quietly. “To tap into the well of raw Force itself, and use that to pierce the veil. I wanted to know what could be done. What should be done. To stop the cycle.”
“Funny,” Han blinked. “I thought you went to the First Temple to… right the balance or something. Uh. Shift it all to the Light.” No one had been clear about that, come to think of it, not even Leia.
“‘Shifting it all to the Light’ would not be balance, Han,” Luke said patiently. “Balancing the Force requires both Light and Dark to exist. Finding the Temple would not have been necessary for that. And destroying the balance, by ‘shifting’ to Light, or to Dark - even were that possible - would be destructive. Light and Dark are not expressions of the Force but of character. Of self.”
“So you have seen the future,” Maukeen said quietly.
“Many futures.” Luke looked over to Rey. “Did you see?”
“No,” Rey rubbed at her temple. “Maybe. There was so much. I couldn’t understand it all. Not now.”
“With time and meditation, some of it will come back to you,” Luke assured her, and pressed his lips into a thin line. “We are heading to D’Qar?”
“Yes?” Han said belligerently. “Like I said. You’re going to go see your sister.”
“Leia’s not on D’Qar,” Luke said absently, and looked grim. “But she’s still alive. We have time.”
Poe set the Rogue Shadow gently down the lip of one of the large craters, and after the ship assured them that the radiation levels outside were only barely above normal, Poe let the ramp down. Outside, the ground was still hot underfoot, the air ashy and thick, the smoke scratching at Finn’s throat. He stared at the devastation in a hollow sort of dull awe, even as Poe numbly skidded around the crater, toeing some of the ash aside to reveal the asphalt of the X-Wing launchpad. There weren’t any X-Wings on the ground among the burned corpses. D’Qar had tried to put up a fight. A wrecked TIE fighter had been flattened, close to Finn’s left. And beyond, the shield generator belched smoke to the sky.
“Holy hell.” Solo breathed. The Falcon had set down close by, then. Beyond, Poe’s hands were clenched tightly into fists.
“They attacked with TIE fighters. Downed the shields. Kylo landed, over there, with the ground force,” Luke gestured to his right. “Killed their way into the command centre. Grabbed Leia. The moment they pulled back into orbit, the Relentless glassed this part of the planet with orbital strikes.” Luke closed his eyes, frowning for a moment. “No survivors.”
“Jess,” Poe said, dazed. “Admiral Ackbar… Major Kalonia… everyone-“
“You saw all that? In the temple?” Solo demanded fiercely. “How long ago was this? Hell, if we’d headed back here first instead of going to get you-“
“Then you would have died. Not just you. Finn and Poe Dameron as well. You would have done the Relentless quite some damage. But ultimately the ventral cannons would have scored a hit. And one hit was all they needed.” Luke shuddered, blinking, and rubbed his eyes, as though chasing away a vision. “And they would still have Leia.”
“I can’t believe…” Solo muttered. “His own mother.”
“So where now?” Rey asked, subdued. “We have to go after the General.”
“I do,” Luke said quietly. “With Han and Chewie. You, Poe, Finn and Maukeen must return to Lorrd. Fulcrum is preparing for war, and all of you must join the muster. Rey, you must also convince Ahsoka Tano to become your Master.”
“Who's that? And why not you?” Rey demanded. “You’re the Grandmaster. You’re Luke Skywalker.”
“It would not be the right path for any of us.” Luke grasped Rey’s hand, then he straightened up as she hugged him tightly. “Thank you. For coming to get me.”
Rey said nothing for a long moment, stifling a sob. Then she leaned back, smiling through watery eyes. “You were a terrible Master,” she said, with a wan smile.
“I know.” Luke kissed her forehead. “Better luck with the next one.”
“I guess you’ll be wanting your lightsaber back.” Rey started to reach behind her for her pack, but Luke gently pressed a hand on her wrist to stop her.
“Keep it. May the Force be with you, Rey.”
“And with you.” Rey hugged Luke tightly again, then she stepped back.
“Where are the three of you going?” Finn asked tensely. “You can’t take on the Relentless by yourself. It’s a frigate. If you guys want to get aboard or something, stage some kinda crazy rescue… the Rogue Shadow is the one with a stealth generator.”
Luke shook his head. “That is not the best path.” He turned, walking away, heading for the landing ramp of the Falcon, and Chewbacca looked between Luke and Finn, then he stamped over to Rey, huffing as he patted her heavily on the shoulder. She hugged him too, for a long moment, then Chewbacca whuffed and pulled away, following Luke towards the Falcon.
“Guess this is where we part ways,” Solo said wryly, clasping Finn’s hand, then Rey’s, Maukeen’s, then finally, Poe’s. “You kids be good now.”
“Clear skies, Solo,” Poe said quietly. He looked tired now, haunted.
“Clear skies, Dameron.” Solo patted Poe’s arm, then he walked off, back towards the Falcon.
They watched silently as the ramp pulled up, and the drives burned blue, then, eventually, followed the airstream behind the Millennium Falcon as it struck skyward, darting up and up, until it was out of sight. Maukeen sniffed, her tail twitching, then she turned, padding back to the Shadow. Rey watched her go, then looked back up at the empty sky again before letting out a sigh and following, leaving Finn and Poe standing together on the ashes.
Poe was silent, and Finn didn’t know what to say, other than an uncomfortable, “I’m sorry, Poe.”
“We shouldn’t have gone,” Poe said harshly. “Why did we go? We weren’t even really needed. All that happened was that I got the both of us nearly killed in that quadjumper. We could’ve been home. Defending the base.”
“We were told to go, remember?”
Poe shook his head angrily. “We shouldn’t have gone. Or. We should have headed back to D’Qar. The moment we had the Rogue Shadow.”
“You heard Luke Skywalker. That wouldn’t have worked out. He saw the future.”
“But we could’ve been here!” Poe spun away from Finn. “We could’ve been here.”
“Look. All this?” Finn swept a hand out at the base. “It was gonna happen sooner or later. We should’ve evacuated right after we destroyed Starkiller base. Hopped to another remote Outer Rim planet and rebuilt. There’s a reason why the Rebel Alliance used to jump around remote planets. I told the General to evacuate. Getting rid of Starkiller base was just one thing. The armada was still out there.”
“She thought that it’d have its hands full engaging the New Republic.”
“Yeah. She thought wrong. Taking D’Qar must’ve been costly for the Relentless. It’s only a frigate. Probably burned up at least half of its TIEs just from the anti air artillery. But this isn’t logical for Kylo Ren, you know that. It’s personal. And it was for her, too. Deep down, I bet General Organa didn’t want to believe that Kylo would go after his own mother.”
Poe shuddered, and sucked in a strangled breath, wracked with grief. Finn hugged him from behind, pressing his cheek against Poe’s shoulder, waiting it out, the sorrow, the pain. For years this had been all the life that Poe had known: all the family he had needed. Finn couldn’t really relate. He had lived here for two months, made some friends. He was sad that they were gone. Angry, maybe. But he had not really known them, and for that Finn was sorry.
Eventually, Poe leaned back against him, his hands curling over Finn’s wrist as Finn tightened his grip. “We should go after Skywalker,” he said, subdued. “It’s suicide, just them against a frigate.”
“They’ll figure something out.” Finn said confidently. “I mean. Between Luke and Rey, they accidentally flooded bits of a planet. A frigate’s gonna be nothing.” Or so he hoped.
“They…” Poe trailed off, then he sighed. “They were right. We can do more joining up with Fulcrum’s fleet. And I’ve heard of General Calrissian. He was with the Rebel Alliance.”
“There you go,” Finn said gently. “It’ll be fine. We’ll take the fight back to the First Order.”
Poe twisted around in Finn’s arms. His eyes were reddened, but his expression was sober as he clasped Finn to him, burying his mouth in Finn’s neck, breathing deeply, slowly. He let Finn tip his chin up for a kiss that was soft, closemouthed and chaste. This was also Poe mourning, Finn sensed, this quiet intimacy between them, surrounded by ash and the shattered bones of Poe’s home. This was Poe finding the strength to turn away from mere hatred, reaching for some other breed of purpose. They pressed their foreheads together in the ashy air, eyes closed, hands curled over each other’s hips. Then, together, they started to walk back to their ship.
END PART ONE
I was thinking about whether to split this fic up into two, and decided against it. Basically Part One - Chapter 1 to 12 - is pretty much what I personally imagine/would like Episode VIII to be. The rest of this story, from 13 onwards, would be what I would like Episode IX to be. There’ll be a bit of a timeskip, and I may also take a short break.
RE: Luke’s lightsaber: Upon finally rewatching RoTJ I realized Luke actually is using a custom green lightsaber now (the blue one, Anakin’s, he lost in ESB). But I felt it was kinda lame to wait all the way until now to reveal that he actually still has a 2nd lightsaber… so… he will just… happen to be armed in the next Part. As to Rey, I feel they’re probably setting her up to use a double bladed bo-stick-like ‘saber, but it doesn’t feel right to me for her to mod Anakin’s… so… we’ll see.
WARNINGS AND DISCLAIMERS FOR PART TWO
I’m going to change the POV characters, so as to keep myself interested in this fic… well, most of them anyway. :) I do love Han Solo, he is my favourite.
Also: I don’t write major character death. However, minor characters are fair game to me, and I think of minor characters as any character who is not part of the OTP. I never decide what to do in a story in advance, but it’s inevitable in Star Wars that characters die. So. You have been warned.
Thanks for reading so far!
Note: This chapter changes the rating of this fic to E. However, most of the fic will still be T overall. :)
A small army of service staff and ‘droids seemed to be dedicated to what they called the ‘comfort and well-being of our guests’. Poe preferred to think of it as the well-intentioned destruction of the soul. After another week living the life of a guest of the unimaginably rich and he’d probably forget how to do up his own shirt, let alone fly. Finn said that Poe was being dramatic, but Poe knew better. The person spooked the most by the constant stream of ‘Would sir like to have refreshments’ and ‘Would sir prefer us to draw sir a bath’ was Finn, after all. Poe had seen Finn actually hide in one of the voluminous antique closets just to get away from a persistent servitor.
Admittedly, the closets did have a certain charm, in the right company. Finn had just dragged Poe into the walk-in wardrobe, pulling the doors shut behind them and hiding them among the clothes that Fiolla had ‘helpfully’ provided in their size, along with several polite but pointed remarks about no longer needing to look like ‘spaceport flotsam’. Poe thought the jackets, breeches and knee-high boots were fine, but he drew the line at the gold capes.
Seriously. Gold capes. He could feel his soul eroding a little just standing this close to them.
“Think they’re gone?” Finn whispered, trying in vain to stare out of one of the elegant slats of the wardrobe door.
Poe hid his grin, probably badly. “Of course they’re not gone. They’re everywhere.”
Finn grimaced, and even that little scowl was adorable, somehow. Poe could even feel his heartbeat quickening, pressed against Finn like this, with Finn against the wooden flank of the wardrobe and Poe’s back to the stupid capes. “Man, why are we here? Can’t we bunk over in the barracks with the other soldiers?”
“Because of Rey, remember?” Rey’s eyes had gone wide and pleading when Finn had first raised the point, and Fiolla had ‘graciously’ allocated them chambers on the guest floor. Two, at first, then one, when Finn pointedly more or less moved into Poe’s after a week. Which, all right, aggressively helpful servitor staff aside, still gave Poe a warm little glow each time he even thought about it.
“You should tell Lando that we want up. Like, up onto the Farthest Sky. We can dock the Rogue Shadow there and sleep shipside. Rey can come too,” Finn added generously.
“She’s doing some secret Jedi training right now,” Poe said vaguely.
He wasn’t sure what the point of it was, but all that Rey seemed to be doing lately was hunting Maukeen around the vast premises of Hart and Parn HQ, in some sort of weirdly complicated game of tag. Lando, Tano and Fiolla were still embroiled in what they called ‘Final Stage Negotiations' and what Poe thought of as ‘Just Give Us The Fucking Ships Already’, but he’d never been much of a politician.
Finn was grumbling darkly to himself, something about Jedis and giant cats, and Poe took the opportunity to cozy up and kiss Finn on the jaw, then his neck, worrying teeth over the worn leather collar of the jacket that had once been Poe's. Despite Fiolla’s comments, Finn had blithely decided to keep the jacket, though he’d conceded on the rest, and possessiveness aside, Poe did look better in the old thing, with his shoulders stretching the leather. When Poe drew up for a kiss, Finn was smirking at him, and Poe liked that too, liked how a life spent under a Stormtrooper helmet meant that Finn had never really learned how to school his expressions.
“You can thank me later,” Finn told him, drawing Poe close with a hand pressed lightly over the back of Poe’s neck.
“Scoping out someplace nice and dark and private. I swear, I don’t know how the Lorrdians have kids, what with somebody poking their head in every few minute to ask if they want a bath.”
“I doubt that the vast majority of the Lorrdians live like this,” Poe said dryly, and kissed Finn obligingly, helplessly, working his hands up under the fine, soft material of Finn’s shirt. Under it, Finn was all solid soldier’s muscle, hard and lean; just like Rey’s new tag partner, that giant Trianii, there seemed nothing on Finn that went to waste - he was not bulky like an athlete, or thickset for vanity. It was a soldier’s body that Poe mapped slowly with feather-light caresses, that shook under Poe’s mouth as he flicked open the catches of Finn’s shirt with his teeth and tongue, all warm and indulgent mirth.
Finn sucked in a slow breath as Poe dropped to his knees, silent on the thick carpeting underfoot, then he let it out in a shaky laugh as Poe grinned slyly up at him and pressed playful kisses over the growing swell in Finn’s breeches. Whatever material rich Lorrdians liked to make their clothes out of, it was silky and thin and stretched nicely, especially when Poe mouthed over it, then pressed his cheek to the bulge. He could feel the heat of Finn’s body just beneath, the strength in the thighs pressed to Poe’s shoulders.
“Stop that,” Finn said, laughter in his voice; at this very moment, Poe would’ve fought an entire squadron of TIEs just to keep that laughter there, to hear it again, today, tomorrow, the next. He kissed Finn’s hip, to stifle the unsteady worship on the tip of his tongue, then fumbled for Finn’s belt, to hide the earnest tremble of his fingers. Nothing could hide the wonder threaded thick in his next breath, as Finn curled fingers lightly into Poe’s hair, or the avarice in the groan he made when he managed to navigate thin under clothes, drawing out Finn’s thick and heavy cock. Poe wrapped fingers nervous with anticipation around it as he tasted the tip, already greedy, always greedy. The galaxy might be burning down around their ears, but at this moment Poe couldn’t care less.
“Poe,” Finn groaned, and unlike all the lovers Poe had fallen into bed with over the years, Finn never pushed; fingers petted Poe’s hair awkwardly but didn’t tug.
There was an uncertain shyness to Finn still where this was concerned, as though Finn was struggling to learn a language of which he had little context, and Poe smiled in the dark and licked harder, got his tongue under the foreskin, chuckled, low and rough, as Finn’s thighs twitched against him and one of Finn’s hands jerked up to stifle another groan. Given time, and a lack of ‘helpful’ servitors, Poe would’ve teased Finn like this, licked just the tip, nosed the root, kissed lower, to heavy balls, taken Finn apart. But they hadn’t the time: just outside, in their shared bedrooms, there was a shuffle of ‘droid treads: despite BB-8’s efforts, one of the service ‘droids had clearly trundled in to check that everything was pristine/that no one needed a bath.
This time, it was laughter that shook Finn silently against Poe, not lust, and Poe grinned again, waiting for the ‘droid to leave before spitting on his palm and stroking Finn more earnestly, clenching fingers tight from root up to tip. “Good choice of a hiding spot,” Poe whispered.
“I know, right? I’ve been keeping an eye out.”
“An excellent use of your downtime,” Poe approved, and took Finn into his mouth, urgent now, relaxing his jaw. The first time they’d done this, Finn had flinched away in shock, although Poe had all but telegraphed what he was going to do; now, however, Finn let out a low and rumbling sigh, fingers stroking down to the back of Poe’s skull. Poe drank down all that unfurling, catlike anticipation, the masculine taste, the heavy musk of him, relishing the weight on his tongue, the stretch of his mouth, the unforgiving push down his throat as Poe took as much as he could and then half an inch more just to make it count. He wanted to feel this in an hour; tomorrow, if he could. Poe had never really believed in half-measures.
“Damn,” Finn gasped, as Poe got him wetter, began to suck, then to move, tugging his grip up and down Finn’s cock as he did, “I… damn-“ With any other lover Poe would have laughed. It didn’t take much for Finn to stutter into incredulity, but where Poe would normally have found it amusing, with Finn it was only another reminder of the gift that Poe had been given, the trust. This was Finn learning tenderness, another language that had never been taught to him until now. At Finn’s hushed, “You’re amazing,” Poe was fumbling at his own breeches, pulling at his own cock, moaning, muffled and loud and no longer caring if they were going to attract an audience.
Finn hissed, “Poe, we’re gonna be-“ and the rest of his warning was towed into a stifled cry, hips twitching up, out of control now, and Poe rode it, let Finn use him, swallowing what he was given and then later, gasping wetly, licking after spent flesh for more. His own hand felt sticky between his legs, his own satiation an afterthought. Against him, Finn was struggling to catch his breath, trembling, and then he started to laugh. Poe smiled, cheek resting high against Finn’s thigh.
“This was a great idea,” Finn whispered.
“So it was.” Poe staggered to his feet, still grinning as Finn dragged him over for a messy, sticky kiss.
“Pity we didn’t ruin those stupid capes,” Finn added thoughtfully, as they parted.
“That’s what round two is for.”
A protocol ‘droid dusted busily around her, sensing her but not seeing her, and Ahsoka ignored it, feeling outwards, a small little fish, navigating the wide sea, and there. Ahsoka felt-learned rather than saw-heard as the strange girl-child Rey stole across a corridor on silent feet, her bo-stick clenched tight, held low, her gray robes trailing after soft boots. She was grinning, her mind wound tight with concentration and play-joy. None of the resentment and frustration that had soured her mind bitter, still seething only a week ago. Acceptance. That was good. Ahsoka learned.
Rey darted around pillars, avoiding servitors. There were fewer on the quality control level, and Rey was quietly navigating the admin block, having long already lost the little watchers that the Auditor-General stuck on any of her guests’ tail. Strange one, that woman. A life spent trying to purge her government of corruption had made her cautious, and suspicious of strangers she did not understand. And so today, Ahsoka had allowed Lando to represent herself and Fulcrum in the negotiations, claiming she needed to meditate and re-check Hart and Parn for First Order sympathizers.
Technically, she was. Rey was past the third security check now, occasionally squirrelling herself into a quiet corner to close her eyes and check on her prey. She was closing in. At the last security door, Rey used a gentle touch of the Force - gentler today than half a week before, certainly - to get an administrator to open the door to Warehouse 85-FN-B. Inside, the lights were banked low, on energy saving, and the little fish that was Ahsoka could now sense Maukeen beyond, prowling, but not on the ground. Higher. Her mind-sense was ebbed low, almost unnoticeable: Trianii Rangers honed this form of play-war from cubhood, training against Force-sensitive predator-fauna from their homeworld. Their memories ran deep. Force-wielders would never gain a toehold on their territories again without significant bloodshed.
Rey was coming closer to where Maukeen had hidden herself, high on the industrosteel shelving where crates as big as Ahsoka was tall sat, each holding thousands upon thousands of the delicate wiring and component parts that would eventually make up a stardrive. Rey had done well to come this far, but she clearly couldn’t quite pinpoint Maukeen yet, talented as she was. Dangerous as she was. Luke was right to have chosen not to teach her, in a way. But Ahsoka understood those who were brash and young and female far more than Luke Skywalker ever would, for once she had been like Rey, far too Force-sensitive for her own good. If they turned from her, where else would Rey go but towards the Dark?
Fear. That was what Ahsoka felt, as she watched-learned the way Rey paused, centreing herself again, with the quiescent calm of a student with years of experience under her belt, not someone who’d only first come into her own barely months ago. The same uncomfortable wariness-fear that Ahsoka herself had sensed, sometimes, when other Jedi had looked upon the man who had once been her Master. When he had still been a man, of course. And not part machine, part monster. That was the problem with power. It made monsters of even the kindly, sometimes.
Above Rey, Maukeen leaped.
Watching like this, Ahsoka could not know what betrayed the Ranger. Her furred paws would not have made a sound, even against the harsh steel. Air, perhaps, displaced? Whatever it was, Rey rolled, under one of the low shelves, scrambling upright beyond, grinning. Maukeen pretended to lash her tail in frustration, baring her teeth, but Ahsoka knew better. In Maukeen’s mind, she was but playing the play-hunt with a cub, for all that this cub had no fur or tail, and was far more dangerous than the Ranger could ever become.
Rey attacked, in the abrupt explosive way of a Trianii, unconsciously using a touch of the Force to spur her into the burst of speed that a Trianii’s powerful hindquarters would give them, her staff swinging out in an arc. Maukeen avoided the first blow and deflected the next, then caught the staff and pulled hard, dragging Rey within range of her paw-hands, claws retracted. Rey let go quickly and darted back, then kicked for Maukeen’s knee, yelping when Maukeen simply used Rey’s own staff to hook up her thigh and tip her off-balance, sending her sprawling.
To her credit, Rey recovered quickly, scrambling out of the way as Maukeen followed that up with a sweeping blow, yelping as the staff caught her a glancing smack on her hip. Instead of backing off again, Rey darted back in, grabbing her staff as it swung again towards her, gritting her teeth, hanging on, and extending one hand, palm up, The Force welled outwards from Rey like a slap, bowling Maukeen back across the floor, fetching the Ranger up against one of the thick columns that shored up the heavy shelves. Maukeen was already on her feet by the time she stopped rolling, shoving off against the column in the agile, acrobatic nature of her kind, tossing a little sphere palmed from her belt over to Rey’s feet. Rey stumbled back in surprise, then yelped as white smoke spewed out, making her cough. Maukeen was grinning again as she climbed, then pounced again, into the smoke.
By the time the smoke cleared, Rey was on her back, grumpily smacking at the furred arm holding her down, Maukeen’s paw-hand pressed gently around Rey’s neck. “I’m never going to beat you,” Rey complained, as Maukeen let up and backed off. “Ahsoka’s never going to agree to teach me.”
Maukeen let out the low purring sound that was the laughter of her kind. “Trianii worlds have been invaded before. By the Sith, a long time ago… recently, by the CSA, and after that, even by a small strike force of the Empire. We learn how to repel all comers.”
“M’not surprised you people are still independent,” Rey dusted herself off, sighing.
“Also,” Maukeen added, “Ahsoka did not tell you that you had to beat me for her to teach you. She is already teaching you. You are already learning. If you want to be her padawan,” Maukeen corrected, grinning toothily, “Then you have to beat me.”
“That’s what I meant!”
“No? That Force push, where did you learn it? To walk quietly, where did you learn that?”
“From Luke lifting R2, and you,” Rey shot back.
Maukeen shrugged. “And I am one of her tools. In this case, a learning tool.” She grinned again, clearly still amused. “Someday, little cub.”
Rey sighed. “Luke didn’t want to teach me. He thought I was dangerous. I think that’s why Ahsoka doesn’t want to be my Master either.”
“You are dangerous.” Maukeen said bluntly. “But so am I. So are your friends upstairs, the warrior and the pilot.”
“I don’t think that’s what Luke meant.”
“Maybe you are more dangerous than most,” Maukeen allowed. “Or you have the potential to be. But if Ahsoka truly did not want to teach you, then she would have sent you away. Masters keep their padawans close by.”
Rey sighed again, scowling, then she walked over to pick up her staff. “Okay. Let’s reset. I want to try again.”
“Mrr,” Maukeen’s ears twitched forward, then back. “We try something different, I think. Now I hunt you. Same rules otherwise. You have half an hour. I will stay here.” She folded her arms and leaned a furry shoulder against a shelf. Rey grinned hugely, as innocently joyous as a cub - or so Maukeen seemed to think - then she darted off, heading back out to the administrative block.
Once alone, Maukeen said aloud, “She is not so bad.”
I know, Ahsoka whispered, into Maukeen’s mind, and her old friend chuckled and swished her tail. Then Ahsoka withdrew, and came back to herself, startling the protocol ‘droid into stumbling backwards.
“Oh my, Lady Tano! I did not see you there, somehow! My sensors must not be working well again.”
“It is not a problem,” Ahsoka said mildly, and the protocol ‘droid froze for a problem, then turned woodenly, resuming its careful arrangement of the flowers in the vase by the writing desk. Breathing deeply, Ahsoka got up creakily from the bench. It was probably time to check in quietly on the negotiations anyway.
And now this.
As the reddish world grew larger and larger through the transparisteel, Chewie made a mournful howl, echoing Han’s discomfort. “I know. Bad feelings all round,” Han muttered. “Wish I’d listened to Luke the first time round and purged the coordinates off my girl.” But no. Han had been twenty years younger, cocky, and too damned arrogant to listen to Luke’s galactic mandate. Galactic mandates could kiss his smuggler’s ass, that’s what he’d thought then.
Chewie made another mournful sound, and Han sighed. “Take over the controls, then. I will try one more time, okay?” Chewie nodded, snuffling, and Han unstrapped himself from the pilot’s seat, swinging over into the access tunnels.
In the communal space, Luke was studying a projected datastream from R2, seated at the dejarik table. The datastream shut off as Han approached, and Han forced on a friendly smile as Luke glanced up at him, his expression distantly thoughtful, as though studying a series of calculations that Han could not see. Some days, Han wished he’d taken an hour or so on D’Qar to get the full rundown from Rey about how Luke had been over the couple of months she’d spent in his company. Chewie had tried, but Shyriiwook didn’t have a lot of words for this kinda thing, compared to having over 150 different words for ‘wood’, and the Thykarann dialect wasn’t any better. As far as Han could tell, in Chewie’s opinion, Luke needed his ‘head unsquashed’.
“You’re going to try and talk me out of landing on Korriban,” Luke said briskly, which was by far the worst habit that Luke seemed to have picked up off the temple. It creeped Han the fuck out.
“Wow, how do I go?” Han asked sarcastically, then he started to frown. “Hey, didn’t you ask Rey to keep your ‘saber? Where’d that one come from?”
Luke patted the lightsaber strapped to his hip. “I made this one after Cloud City. The one that Rey has belonged to my father. Lost it when I was fighting him there.” Luke’s expression clouded, but only for a heartbeat. “As to your other question. Sometimes you win, but that never ends well.”
Han let out a deep sigh. “Look, kid. I know you saw crazy shit in that temple, back while Chewie and I and the rest were busy pretending to be fish or whatever.” That was a memory best left forgotten, in Han’s opinion. “But it’s been weeks. The First Order still has Leia.”
“And she’s still alive,” Luke said patiently. “They haven’t broken out the brass tacks, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“… Really?” Han blinked. Somehow, he hadn’t really known what to expect. But then again, the First Order had been suspiciously quiet about its abduction of the famous General Organa, though it had crowed about its ‘victory’ over D’Qar in the public HoloNet. “What’re they doing to her, then?”
“Trying to convince her to go over to the Dark Side,” Luke noted absently.
“Well… I knew that, but… she’d never… We’ve still got to help her! Wait. You’ve been talking to her then?” Han asked hopefully. “All this while? Through, uh, the Force?”
“No I haven’t. But yes, Leia’s been resisting it. And yes, we do need a plan if we’re to extract her off Coriolis. I don’t think dressing up as stormtroopers will work this time.” Luke cracked a grin.
And there it was, sometimes. The old Luke. Han wavered between uncertainty and frustration and his instinctive, lizard-brain need to trust an old friend, and rubbed a palm slowly over his face. “So. Coming to Korriban. It’s all part of your plan?”
“Because, correct me if I’m wrong, but when you asked the New Republic and everybody out there to scrub Korriban’s coordinates from their databanks, you kinda said it was because it was the evil death homeworld of the Sith species, nutballs who, ah, ‘interbred’ with dark Jedi from way, way back, and it was full of tombs with Dark Lord Ghosts.”
“Good and evil are a point of view-“
“Fine, those were not quite my words, but yes, those are approximately the reasons I gave at the time.”
“And. We’re going there. Right now.”
“I am. If you’re concerned, you can stay aboard the ship. Lift off back to orbit even, if you’d like. I’ll hail you when I’m done.” Luke said serenely, as though single-handedly exploring an evil planet full of evil Sith ghosts was something he did everyday after breakfast.
“You’re… not… thinking about going to the Dark Side or something, are you?”
For the first time in weeks, Luke’s face actually scrunched up slightly into a gentle expression of exasperation. Somehow, this was more reassuring than it should be. “No, Han.”
“And… if Chewie and I come with you, does that help your chances or bomb them?”
“No matter what I say right now,” Luke noted thoughtfully, “The two of you would come along with me anyway.”
“You got that right,” Han said feelingly. “And Luke? We talked about this, remember?”
This got him a quick, impish grin. The old Luke. “About how I really should pretend that I haven’t seen the future, because it ‘creeps you out’?”
“Yes, exactly. That.”
R2 made a rude series of beeps, but Luke ignored it. “All right, I’ll try to remember. There’s an old spaceport in the western canyons. Set us down there. We’ll leave R2 aboard the ship.”
Chewie made an accusing growl when Han strapped himself back into the chair. “Yeah, yeah, I’m a fucking pushover, laugh it up. You give it a shot, if you think you’d do any better.” That was part of the problem, really. Whenever Han thought he’d had life figured out, Luke had always had this gravity-warping way of screwing everything up, even Han’s fundamental grasp of rational logic.
Korriban’s spaceport had stopped being functional centuries ago, and it showed. The landing pads were ancient, and partly corroded, and the connecting hangars were ruined, blast doors sealed shut. Han took the Falcon gently down on one of the few landing pads that connected up through narrow stone stairs to a higher plateau, and disengaged the airlock, muttering all the while about crazy Jedi and their crazy ideas under his breath. By the time he got armed and met Chewie and Luke by the landing ramp, Han was in a bad mood all over again.
Once outside, Han could sourly sense why Korriban had spawned a species that had ended up interbreeding with evil Jedi and then building tombs to the ghosts of said evil Jedi. It was a barren world as far as Han could see, a bleak sandblasted red of craggy rock and dirt. Even the few vegetation that Han could see were gnarled, blackened things, clinging fearfully to the cliffsides.
“Let me guess,” Han said thoughtfully. “This place also has evil giant monsters?”
“Morality doesn’t really apply to non-sentient creat-“
“That’s a question with a yes or no answer, Luke.”
Another quick grin. “There are aggressive rancor-like giant creatures, dragons, large flesh-eating bat creature flocks, huge intelligent hounds-“
“All right, forget I asked.” Han cut in unhappily. Chewie made a growl of agreement. “So. What exactly are we here to do? Because I’m incredibly tense right now, and you’d better tell me, or I’m probably going to shoot the first thing that moves.”
Luke turned his serene smile onto Han. “We’re here to stop the current Mand’alor from breaking into one of the tombs.”
“Great.” The day was just getting better. “Any chance we could ‘stop’ him or her with the Falcon’s quad cannon? Given that the Mandalorians are a batshit-crazy death cult of war-hungry assholes?” Any boss of the Mandalorians was probably going to be a hundred fucking times worse than the few bloodthirsty mercs Han had met over his lifetime.
“We’re just going to talk to him. It’ll be fine.” Luke paused. “Most of the time.”
“I’m beginning to wish we just attacked Coriolis single-handedly,” Han said gloomily.
Decades ago, when she had been younger and hadn’t yet learned to control her temper, Leia would have spit and snarled at the First Order guards, shouted down her son, and hurled all manner of imprecations at the strange, wizened pale… thing… that was the so-called Supreme Leader. Two decades as a politician in the high-stakes world of galactic politics had taught Leia the benefits of keeping calm and smiling mysteriously - if anything, it kept everyone else guessing. Especially when she was holding the worst cards.
Being a model prisoner had meant being moved out of the dungeons and into a comfortable set of rooms with a view of a lake. Leia had no illusions that this was merely a more comfortable cell, of course: there were bars over the windows and an strangely configured, but heavily armed bipedal droid at the door. But it did mean she could recline in an armchair and look carefully bored as her son prowled around in a rage, seething. The other armchairs had been smashed back against the walls in a petulant display of Force powers, though nothing had broken. The First Order built well, at least.
“Finished?” Leia asked dryly, when Ben stopped, breathing heavily behind his ridiculous helmet. Probably a new one: this duckbill helmet had a heavier brow.
Ben glared at her. “I see that the reality of your reduced circumstances continues to escape you, mother.”
“And I see a man who should have outgrown throwing tantrums at least two decades ago,” Leia retorted mildly.
“Careful,” Ben grated out, with the helmet’s metallic modulator. “I’ve already killed my father. I might be inclined to complete the set.”
Leia kept her smile bland, refusing to show Ben how much that statement still hurt: she closed her guilt and grief away, deep within, beside the grief and anger she already wore, from the death meted onto D’Qar. She had known before Han had left for Starkiller base, that her words might just have sent Han to his death. And yet she had not been able to help speaking them anyway. “Then why haven’t you? Because you want to lure Luke here? He hasn’t quite taken the bait, has he?”
“He will,” Ben said, the sneer sharp in his voice, the poison of it. Leia might not have had the same power that Luke wielded, but she had felt it: the moment that Ben had murdered Han. The sudden tremor in an already turbulent Force - Ben’s step further into the Dark.
“Did you come here to gloat? It’s been weeks, Ben. Either find something else to talk to me about or send me a holo recording. It’ll have the same effect.”
“Ben is not my name,” Ben snapped. “I’ve told you before. Ben is dead.”
Leia sighed, pinching at the bridge of her nose. “I gave birth to you, boy. Trust me to know my own son. You’ve changed your clothes and taken on a few titles, but-“
“But what?” Ben cut in mockingly. “I’m still your son?”
“You can’t choose your parents,” Leia said wryly. “Or your children, in a way. You’ve done unforgivable things-“
“Unforgivable things?” Ben repeated, contemptuous. “Yes, do tell me about unforgivable things. About how my uncle murdered my grandfather by stabbing him in the back and then lied to the galaxy about it.”
“This again?” Leia leaned heavily against her rising temper, and kept it out of her face. Here was part of the problem, in truth. Temper had always run hot in her. Her, and Han. Of course it would also have run hot in their children. Force-sensitive children. “I’ve told you time and again, Ben. My father sacrificed himself to save Luke. He turned away from the Dark Side at the end. Don’t listen to Snoke.”
“You only have Luke’s account of the story. Why would Grandfather turn away? He and the Emperor were on the verge of destroying the Rebel fleet. They were close to what they wanted: order in the Galaxy. True Galactic peace.”
“It’s the true account of the story, Ben. Don’t listen to the lies. Peace installed through brute force is not peace.”
“Through history, that’s often the only sort of peace that’s mattered.”
“You can’t rule through fear.”
Ben chuckled harshly. “Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed in fear. If nobody is afraid of me, then I’m meaningless.”
Leia couldn’t help it - she scowled. “That’s a childish way of looking at things.”
“No, it’s a practical one. The First Order wants to complete the Empire’s mission - to bring order not just to a handful of Core worlds, but to the galaxy itself. The Supreme Leader understands people. As a whole, people are ungrateful, fickle and cowardly: if you are strong, they are yours - they’d offer you their blood, property, life and children… but if you’re weak, they’d turn against you. Love is irrational. Fear preserves a galactic government by dread of punishment.”
“Look at what happened after the Galactic war,” Ben added, when Leia said nothing. “The Senate collapsed into infighting for years. It was still petty when you quit to create your so-called Resistance. Disorder spread. The Outer Rim is still not pacified. Even in many Mid Rim worlds, one cannot walk into a city without fear of crime. That is not the case in First Order territories.”
“And that’s what you think people want out of life?”
Ben shrugged. “Run a poll. Ask anyone what they want out of life. Is it the freedom to say what they like, write what they like, set forth and become terrorists, raiding depots, bombing ships? Most sane people just want homes, medicines, jobs and schools. Tell me, mother. What good has your Resistance done?”
“We’ve not killed billions for a gesture, you misguided child,” Leia snarled, all attempt at keeping calm forgotten. “You say you prefer to be feared? There’s a difference between the fear that you speak of and inspiring hatred, Ben. Because that’s what your First Order has done. The Independent Sectors? By murdering Hosnian Prime, you’ll force them to choose sides.”
“And you think they’ll side against us?” Ben laughed, the sound hollow and inhuman through his mask. “You have a better opinion of the CSA, the Hutts, the Trianii and all of those Sectors than you should. Most have stayed silent. Those who have not have sent us ambassadors. You see, mother. Fear.”
Leia sat back, swallowing her temper, her growing despair. She narrowed her eyes instead, looking for a weakness. For something. “And that’s why you’ve come to talk, have you? You wanted to boast? Make me admit that I was wrong? Spare me.”
“I’m just curious why the Supreme Leader finds you interesting,” Ben said evenly, and Leia blinked, surprised. This was the first that she’d heard of it. “I wanted to have you kept aboard the Relentless in the brig, but he instructed me to bring you to Coriolis. You had that brief meeting with him. And then he had you installed in this room.”
Ah-h. That made sense, bitter as the revelation was. Somehow, Leia had thought that it was Ben - some shadow of the child she had once loved and told grand adventures to by the bed - who had moved her into better quarters. “Well, if he wants to talk to me again, I’m here.” Ben stiffened in surprise, and Leia smiled sharply, now sensing an opening. Years as a politician had at least given her a nose for blood. “After all, it’s not as though I have anything better to do.”
“We will see,” Ben said coldly.
“Or are you concerned?” Leia asked thoughtfully. “Afraid, perhaps? That you’ll be replaced? Rey said that you offered to teach her. The Dark Side has the so-called Rule of Two, does it not? You think that Snoke might be looking to get rid of you. So you’re making preparations.”
“Not at all,” Ben snapped. “Afraid? Of you replacing me? Hah!”
“My father is Anakin Skywalker and my brother is Luke Skywalker,” Leia shot back. “Just because I’ve never used the Force doesn’t mean that I can’t.”
Leia was getting through, she could tell, from how Ben’s hand twitched and curled beside his lightsaber holster. She was unsettling him, prying open his armour. Planting doubt, the way she would’ve, on the Senate floor, faced with any dictates that she didn’t agree with. Sometimes a word and a gesture had far wider consequences than a well-wielded lightsaber. It was something that Luke had never really been able to grasp.
“That’s not why the Supreme Leader is curious about you,” Ben said at last.
“You don’t sound certain. Why don’t you ask him? And while you’re at it, tell him that we should negotiate. Him and I.”
“Negotiate? What have you to negotiate with?”
Leia managed a smirk, wary as she was now, and a little afraid of the gambit that she had just pushed forward. Now she was playing with no cards at all, and she faced a dealer with the greatest navy in the galaxy. But then again, she was no wilting Princess, no delicate flower. She was General Leia Organa.
“That’s for Snoke to find out.”
Star Wars cities and towns: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/list_of_star_wars_cities_and_towns
Yes, Kylo (and Leia) are quoting Machiavelli (and an IRL world leader). The Prince is a really interesting book for anyone who likes to think about governance.
“My eyes!” Rey yelped, and hid behind the divan.
“Next time, you knock,” Poe told her, though he switched off the holodeck with his foot.
“I didn’t know Hutts could do that with their tongues,” Finn said, his expression caught somewhere between sheer fascination and sheer horror.
“Why are the two of you watching Hutt porn?” Rey demanded, still hidden.
“We’re channel surfing,” Poe corrected. “Why did you walk in during the Hutt porn? Five minutes back and you’d just have walked in during a NewRep press conference.”
“No really,” Finn added, blinking, clearly still struck by the feed. “I mean. Those tongues. They’re like huge slabs of rubber. And, uh. That lady. She kinda looked like she was enjoying it? How many creds did they pay her to do that?”
Poe patted Finn’s wrist comfortingly. “Best not to think about it. You can come out now, Rey.”
Rey peered up suspiciously from behind the back of the divan. From this angle, she looked upside down, flushed with embarrassment. “Let’s never talk about this again,” she suggested.
“Something came up?” Poe asked hopefully. “You could’ve paged us through the deck.”
“My uh… that is, Ahsoka wants to speak to all three of us. Privately. Didn’t want to route it through the gen comm.”
“Really?” Finn actually perked up. “Maybe this is it. She’s gonna take you on as a padawan. You finally whacked that big cat? Knew you could do it!”
Rey pulled a face. “No. That’s why I don’t know what this is about. Have either of you talked to her before? Recently?”
“No,” Poe thought back over the weeks. “Other than when I was first introduced to her. Then when you were introduced to her.” Finn also shook his head.
“Okay.” Rey briefly chewed on her lower lip. “Let’s just go and see her, then. This is the first time she’s talked to me in over a week. I think she doesn’t like me,” Rey confessed nervously, as Poe and Finn got up from the divan. “I’m messing up, aren’t I? You both heard Luke. I’ve got to get her to take me on as a padawan. Otherwise the future that Luke saw might get screwed up.”
“Didn’t you see the future as well?” Poe asked, as he followed Rey out of the deck room.
“Not really. Only a little bit. And none of it’s really coming back to me. I’ve tried meditating about it. Besides, even if it did, I don’t even know what sort of future Luke might have decided on.”
“Been weeks,” Finn said quietly. “Ain’t got no word from them. Don’t even know if they’ve managed to save the General.”
“That’s the other thing,” Rey said, frustrated. “While we’re still here, we can’t really contact the Falcon. Not without risking the tightbeam getting traced back to Lorrd. But I know Luke’s still out there. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe until we finish up on everything he’s told us to do here, he’s not going to get back to us with more instructions.”
“Well,” Finn suggested, “When Ahsoka said you had to beat Maukeen, she didn’t say you couldn’t have help, right? I could help. Poe too.”
“Don’t make me fight a Trianii Ranger on the ground,” Poe said dryly. Maybe Rey did have a point. Luke had been bluntly clear in what he’d wanted them to do. Join up with Fulcrum. Persuade Ahsoka to become Rey’s Master. Were they holding up the schedule or something? That would be awkward.
“I’m telling you,” Finn said earnestly, as they dodged servitors, letting themselves out of the chambers, “Poe and I can jump Maukeen and then-“
“And then what?” Maukeen asked dryly, from behind them. “Do tell.”
“Whoah!” Finn flinched, surprise flashing into guilt then embarrassment on his open face. “Didn’t uh, didn’t see you there, Maukeen. We, ah, we were just thinking out aloud! That’s what we were doing. Thinking. Aloud.”
Maukeen made her purring laugh, even as Rey stifled a giggle. “Hurry on. Don’t keep Ahsoka waiting.”
Tano was standing in the balcony of her chambers, overlooking the vast sandsea beyond the borders of Qatamer. The air above the great dunes wavered and danced in the afternoon heat, but like all of Hart and Parn HQ, even the balcony was kept cool by discreetly placed life support filters. Tano smiled warmly as they approached, still dressed in sober gray robes, the hems sweeping the floor. “There you are.”
“Something wrong?” Poe asked, when Finn and Rey said nothing, both of them forever overawed in Tano’s presence: Poe had the benefit of nearly a decade’s worth more of cynicism there, at least. “Is it the negotiations?”
“The negotiations have concluded,” Tano said mildly. “I’ve just heard word from Lando. He’ll be handling the discreet transfer of the starfighters and the corvette aboard Kol Station - he’s already on the next shuttle out.”
“All right,” Finn whooped. “About time.”
“Dameron, Lando suggested that as a very experienced and talented pilot, you might be best used for now in training the new pilots,” Tano added, glancing at Poe. “But I think that might be a waste.”
“I’m happy to help out wherever’s needed.” Poe shrugged. “That’s always been the case. Whatever you need.” He tried not to think over the squadrons in D’Qar, but it wasn’t possible: a pang constricted his chest, made him breathe out shallowly. All his friends-
“Good. Now. This is why I wanted to speak to all of you personally. It’s best that none of this goes out over the comm. A day or so ago, one of Fiolla’s agents picked up unusual activity over on Rochor II. That’s a First Order-controlled agricultural moon: they use it to supply a couple of their Outer Rim mining bases. A ship limped in, probably hit by pirates. It had a very unusual shipment: prisoners, apparently. But it wasn’t tagged as a convict transport, just as a gas hauler. The agent pinged Fiolla once she was able. That’s where we come in.”
Rey looked confused. “Prisoners? Like criminals?”
“You guys found a black site,” Finn breathed. At Poe’s querying glance, Finn explained, “All of us knew about things like that. Word comes down even to the grunts. ‘Bout how if you failed one too many re-educations, or if you flapped your mouth wrong, sometimes you don’t get shot. You just disappear. I’ve done a rotation as a door jockey… uh - security guard post - on a First Order prison. The vets there liked to speculate about things.”
“The First Order’s skirmishes with what’s left of the New Republic is a distraction,” Tano said grimly. “They’re going to consolidate power. Over not just their own core worlds, but the original ones. Coruscant. Corulag. The others. They’ve moved from mining planet acquisition to recovering Imperial shipyards.”
“They’ve got shipyards already,” Finn said uncomfortably. “Navy’s still bigger than the armada that the New Republic has left.”
“That’s why we want the black site,” Tano said briskly. “It won’t just house important prisoners. It’ll likely also have confidential military information. Ship codes, for example. And the locations of all their current shipyards. All their current mining worlds, their supply routes. I need the Rogue Shadow to fly me to Rochor II. Rey and I will meet this agent quietly and verify her information. If the information’s good, that’s when life might get more interesting for the rest of us.”
“Invade a black site? Just the bunch of us? I like your idea of ‘interesting’,” Finn blinked. “That’s crazy, not ‘interesting’.”
“We’ll see,” was all Tano said, her expression gentle and mildly incurious.
“Where else can we get info like that?” Rey asked.
“I don’t know?” Finn said helplessly. “I never got further than being a grunt.”
Rey pulled a face. “I think giving this black site a shot is a good idea, then. Besides, we might be able to save some lives.”
“Good,” Poe decided. “I was dying slowly of boredom here.”
“We’ll meet this agent?” Rey asked Tano, excited now. “Just us?”
“Maukeen will be very noticeable in a First Order affiliated spaceport,” Tano said mildly, even as Poe thought steady on, girl, don’t push. Thankfully, all Rey did was grin hugely, darting off to pack when Tano dismissed them, telling them to meet back at the Rogue Shadow’s berth within the hour. “Dameron, a word?”
Poe paused on the way out. At Finn’s curious look, he shook his head, and Finn frowned slightly, but reluctantly headed out of Tano’s chambers. Poe turned back, trying not to fall into parade rest. As old and serene as Ahsoka Tano looked, something about her tranquility seemed to unconsciously command respect - just like Luke Skywalker. The Luke Skywalker that Poe remembered, anyway, from years upon years ago, growing up on Yavin IV.
“Your friend Finn was a Stormtrooper.”
Poe blinked at her. “Yes he was. But he left that behind. Saved me from-“
“I’ve heard about that,” Tano interrupted quietly. “He’ll be a liability on a recon mission like this.”
Poe couldn’t help it - he bristled. “He’s a great shot with a blaster and he helped with Starkiller base.”
“And with subterfuge?”
Finn’s nervousness, walking them out to the hangar in the Finalizer. The openness of his face. “He can learn. Besides, he’s my gunner. At most, if you’re going to leave Maukeen aboard, Finn can stay aboard as well. And isn’t it just you and Rey heading out on that planet…?”
Tano kept her gentle, inscrutable smile until Poe trailed off, then she nodded. “That’s all I wanted to know. One hour, Dameron.”
“Copy that,” Poe said quickly, now confused. “I just… Lady Tano. You can trust Finn. He’s left the First Order behind him.”
“And this would still only be his… third mission, ever?” Tano said mildly. “It isn’t a question of trust, Dameron. Let me try and put matters in a way you might understand. We’re about to try and penetrate a First Order black site with two green recruits.”
“I’ll keep an eye on the both of them,” Poe promised, frowning. He waited, but Tano had already turned away, towards the balcony, and after a moment’s hesitation, Poe retreated quickly.
Tano had this in common with the Skywalker that Poe remembered, too. He couldn’t ever seem to read them.
Sometime long ago, this ship had belonged to the Sith.
As Ahsoka poked quietly through the chamber, pretending to inspect the crates, she sensed Maukeen coming up behind her. “Any reason why Dameron’s been looking so spooked?” she murmured.
Ahsoka closed her eyes briefly. Rey and Finn were still on the launch pad, helping to load up supplies, while Poe was in the cockpit, doing a final check of the systems. “He’s a delicate soul under all that flyboy swagger?” Ahsoka suggested, with a faint grin.
“Something I should know?”
“The questions didn’t matter. I just wanted to put him off-balance. Get a sense of him.” Ahsoka turned, sober. “Am I making a mistake, Maukeen? If we do this… Finn and Rey are so young, so new to war. And Dameron? His heart sits heavy in him. He still feels the loss of D’Qar very sorely. I may be asking too much of them so soon.”
Maukeen’s ears flicked forward. “Grief is natural,” she said finally. “And other than Rey, the other two are soldiers.”
“You like them. All of them.”
“As much as I can be said to like anyone,” Maukeen chuckled. “This is your problem, Ahsoka. You always worry.”
“I should!” Ahsoka growled. “Damn those Skywalkers. Jammed his thumb into the wellspring of the Force just to see the future, did he? Wants me to take on that child as a padawan? I want to know why. I want to know what sort of future he’s trying to steer us into.”
Maukeen tilted her head. “Luke Skywalker is the Grandmaster. He ended the previous Galactic war.”
“And see how that turned out,” Ahsoka groused. “He’s also a Skywalker, and they’ve tended to walk rather closely to the wrong side of the Force. His father and his nephew fell right over. And the destruction they then wreak… I talked to Rey about the months she spent with Luke. She’s protective and defensive.”
“So something is wrong.”
“Exactly. Something is wrong.” Ahsoka blew out a sigh. “Rey does need a Master. But until I’m certain of Skywalker and his motives… I’m not so sure that any of his instructions should be trusted.”
The Rogue Shadow would never be mistaken for any breed of merchant ship the galaxy over, and as such Hart and Parn had built a blocky little shell around it, with an ingenious quick release that would blow the shell apart from an internal comm signal if need be. Now that it looked like some sort of cobbled-together Outer Rim freighter, lifting through the atmosphere actually took more thrust than usual, and everyone was relieved once they were clear of Lorrd and could make the jump to hyperspace.
Rey and Maukeen spent their time in hyperspace sparring. Ahsoka spent it sitting on her bunk, meditating. As the Rogue Shadow had been built as a military ship, other than its cleanser facilities it had no privacy: the bunks were open to each other, and no doors closed off the cockpit to the crew quarters or the training room. For the first day, Finn and Poe all but tiptoed around her, clearly unnerved by how motionless she was. On the second day, Finn’s almost childlike curiosity clearly got the better of him. He was ostensibly cleaning out his blaster rifle, but now and then, Ahsoka could feel him watching her.
“No,” Ahsoka said dryly, when she finally tired of it, though she didn’t open her eyes. “I’m not asleep.”
Finn dropped something. Ahsoka glanced over, and saw him rooting sheepishly under the crew table. “Come over here,” she invited. “Sit with me.”
“Uh, sure. Um. Ma’am.” Finn quickly reassembled his rifle, wiped off his hands and set it in its magnetic rack against the hull. Then he ducked in to the crew’s quarters, looking for all the world like a child caught with his hand in a candy jar. He looked around for a moment, then sat down on Maukeen’s bunk, directly facing Ahsoka, straight-backed and attentive. “Something, um, something I can do? For you?”
“What was it like being a Stormtrooper?”
Visibly, Finn relaxed. He’d clearly been asked this question enough times over the past two months or so that he’d gotten used to answering. “Pretty orderly. Wake up, train, eat, train some more, eat, wash, lights out. Or if we’re assigned to something, then replace all the training with work. Think alot of us actually never see any action.”
“And you’re all… taken from your parents? From young?” Ahsoka still couldn’t quite place the enormity of that. The number of legions-
“Well, not all of us. The newest legions, sure. Families enroll a second or a third kid into the program, usually. Otherwise there’s not enough work out there for everyone.”
“And you never get to see them again?”
Finn shrugged. “Doubt they wanted me that much to begin with.”
“I’ve heard,” Ahsoka said carefully, “That some children are… stolen. Snatched from families living in the annexed worlds. Or in the First Order territories.”
“What, all of us?” Finn asked, and his mind felt amused, not annoyed. There was no real guile to Finn, and an honest breed of openness that Ahsoka decided that she liked. It was refreshing, at least. “All this time? That’s a hella lot of angry parents out there. Two for every Stormtrooper or so, yeah? Nobody busted down the Order Gates in Coriolis? Nobody flooded out of the Core worlds?”
“And… training children to become soldiers… the ways of war…”
“I know, right?” Finn laughed, misunderstanding Ahsoka’s hesitation. “It’s so much like the Jedi.”
“What?” Ahsoka blinked, surprised.
“I mean. You guys used to have Initiates, right? Starting from babies, if you could. To about three years old? Being sorted into clans, learning the Force and the lightsaber-“
“It’s not the same,” Ahsoka said, and only realized she’d spoken sharply when Finn visibly flinched. “My apologies,” she added quickly. “Yes, we have Initiates. I was discovered as Force-sensitive by Jedi Master Plo Koon, when I was three years old. I was taken away to be raised in the Jedi Temple at Coruscant.”
“Did you ever want to see your parents again?”
“I was told I was abandoned.” Ahsoka smiled faintly, wryly, finally seeing the irony of it. Pointed out by an ex-Stormtrooper, of all people. “And I never thought to investigate the matter further.”
“If it helps,” Finn was also grinning, “We were also told that you guys were baby-snatchers. But seems to me like the Jedi aren’t so bad.”
“I’m not a Jedi any longer.”
“Yeah? Seems to me like you’re one of the good guys, ma’am.”
Ahsoka chuckled, amused by Finn’s earnestness. “Not all Jedi were ‘the good guys’. Nothing mortal is perfect. Sometimes the imperfections matter - especially when you are young.”
“I guess it don’t matter what you call yourself.” Finn decided. “But seriously, maybe you should go easy on Rey. She’s pretty good already. She kicked Kylo Ren’s ass.”
“Then she shouldn’t have any problems against Maukeen.”
“Well, um, that,” Finn objected quickly, “That’s different.”
“I suppose I’m just cautious,” Ahsoka said thoughtfully. “About Luke Skywalker and his chosen future.”
“Don’t worry about that ma’am,” Finn said confidently. “I’m sure it’s all going to work out. Rey’s seen it too. They want to stop the war.”
Darth Vader had also wanted to stop the war. Eventually. For a moment, Ahsoka envied Finn’s fiercely held faith. Then she smiled faintly, and closed her eyes again. “I hope so.”
Ah… it seems hyperspace actually isn’t instantaneous XD;;; I’m probably going to have to check back through the fic to see if I’ve made any visible errors, but it’s probably a good thing I’ve just been quite fuzzy about it (I think). http://www.starwars-chronicles.com/Hyperspace_Travel_Time.htm
Also, my vacation time is over - back to work today! So updates may not be as regular as before.
“Don’t judge,” Luke murmured, and although his back was turned, Han could hear the grin in his voice. “You’ve seen worse.”
“Not that much worse,” Han muttered, before he could stop himself. “Luke.”
Luke hadn’t sounded particularly remorseful. Han exchanged a pointed glance behind Luke’s back with Chewie, who shrugged his hairy shoulders philosophically. Who was a pushover again?
In any case, it didn’t look like the original Sith people and their sexual preferences had done much for their species or civilisation. The planet looked as dead as the eye could see: the spaceport they were going through had been stripped to the bones of anything remotely useful for scrap. The stuff that couldn’t have been stripped off looked vaguely familiar, though, run along similar lines. Here was a workbench, part polished rock, part rusted steel, there the too-rusted hulk of something that could have once been a ‘droid. Further out from the spaceport, passing the occasional rusted shell of an ancient, beached starship, the evidence grew only clearer.
“How long ago were the Sith here?” Han asked, as Luke took them southwards.
“The Sith as a species apparently became extinct after the Great Hyperspace war. Over five thousand years ago or so,” Luke clarified. “Though Korriban has been settled on and off since.”
“Huh.” Han stared at the ship as they passed it by. It was a Corellian freighter, though he couldn’t really tell what model it was with most of it long sanded away by the weather. “Chewie and I saw this little model of a pre-hyperdrive spaceship. In that weird fish world. Five thousand years ago, did they have hyperdrives?”
“Technology levels were quite similar, actually. Maybe better. It depends on what you’re looking at. Outer Rim worlds, or Core worlds.”
“So we… haven’t actually moved very much in thousands of years?” Han blinked. He’d never actually thought about it.
“In a way, we have. Starkiller base sounded quite advanced. Rey described it to me.”
“… We haven’t moved, except by way of Doomsday weaponry?” Han corrected himself dryly, and this got him a quick backward grin from Luke.
“Technological advancements do tend to be driven by war. And after a war, they’re also often regressed by the winning side. The galactic war between versions of the Sith and versions of the Republic has been raging on and off for most of Galactic history. In the lull times, the winner destroys the tech of the loser. And so it goes. Over and over. We stagnate, because we’ve never learned how not to go to war.”
“… this is putting me in a great mood to go Mand’alor hunting.”
“Glad to help,” Luke deadpanned.
They’d brought supplies, but it was still a freezing cold night huddled together in a wrecked old hab, chewing on ship rations. Han had complained - couldn’t they have set down closer to the target? Luke, however, had merely shrugged and curled up to go to sleep, which earned Han another earnestly mournful look from Chewie. Annoyed, they drew lots for the first watch, and Han lost, which meant a cold, lonely three hours ahead to be spent jumping at shadows on a haunted planet. Han managed about half an hour by the small fire that they’d built before he got twitchy, and headed out of the hab, breath puffing into the air, hand close to his blaster. He walked a slow, tight circle around the hab, squinting out into the rolling dark beyond, lit only by stars. Even at night, Korriban was ugly.
Han walked circles until his feet ached, then he settled for sitting on rocks now and then to rest his legs, wishing that he hadn’t gotten so old. Cold as the night was, his joints got creaky, he tended to get grumpy with low sleep, and his hands got stiff easily.
“I’m too old for this,” Han told Korriban glumly.
“You’re not so bad.”
Han nearly fell off the rock in shock. Luke had snuck up on him, easy as you please. Seemingly oblivious to Han’s surprise, Luke sat down beside him on the rock, almost close enough to touch, his expression sober under that awful beard. With only the light from the stars, Han could barely make out Luke’s features, and he squirmed as Luke seemed content to say nothing at all. Decades ago, this would have been simpler. The occasional jags they took through hyperspace were easy things, laughter, some jibes, companionable silences: Luke trained or meditated, Han and Chewie saw to the ship. But when Han had run from everyone… now it felt like he’d run the furthest from Luke. This Luke felt like a near-forgotten stranger. Only sometimes did the man Han knew surface for air.
“So uh. I haven’t really asked but. How’re you holding up, kid?”
“Better than before,” Luke said evenly.
“We uh. We never actually talked. About things.” Han muttered uncomfortably. Yet again, he wished Leia was here. Fiery as her temper was, she’d always seemed to know instinctively what to do: especially where her brother was concerned. Han? Han could only muddle through and hope that he didn’t break something.
“You?” Luke smiled faintly. “Talking?”
“Hey, I talk things out. Don’t listen to Chewie.”
“I guess I missed this,” Luke said, a non-sequitur if Han had ever heard one. “Going on crazy adventures with you.”
“You got that right,” Han scowled at the reminder. “Did we really have to visit Korriban for the reunion tour? Chewie and I missed you, kid. But we could’a caught up somewhere… less haunted by Sith ghosts. I don’t like ghosts.”
“They’re not so bad.”
“Didn’t you use to see them? Ben-“ Han stumbled briefly over the name. “Ben Kenobi’s?”
“His, and others. But not for a while. I don’t know why.”
“Well, if it’s between checking out the rest of the universe or haunting one skinny Jedi Grandmaster’s ass, I know what I’d choose,” Han drawled.
Luke didn’t laugh, staring at his hands instead, rubbing a thumb over the metal forefinger of his synthetic hand, poking a nail into the joints. “I missed you the most out of everyone,” he murmured, so softly that Han nearly didn’t catch it.
“Thanks kid. Flattered. But don’t tell that to your sister.”
“I used to envy Leia,” Luke said wanly. “I sometimes used to think… Our father had twins, and the Jedi hid both of us. One they gave to a Senator and a Queen, to learn matters of State, that she may perhaps someday help to guide the Republic. One they gave to a pair of moisture farmers, and that one they trained to kill.”
“Some people need killing,” Han said unthinkingly, then he grimaced. “Luke-“
“He turned away from the Dark Side in the end. But before that, all the choices he made, they were still his choices.” Luke glanced up at Han this time, unflinching. “Just as Ben’s choices are his choices. He killed children that day, he and the other Knights. We - and Leia - may blame ourselves… Leia blames Snoke, I know. But the hand that dealt death that day was not Snoke’s. I see that. I wish things were different. That I had done something to turn him away from that path. But the past is past, and we have no time for regrets. It’s the future that we need to change.”
“I’m not going to try and talk him out of things again,” Han agreed, wondering where Luke was going with this.
“The First Order must face their crimes,” Luke said pensively. “The wound they inflicted when they murdered those five planets. I felt it, even where I was. All those lives. One final shout of pain and fear. But… in this life, it’s possible to cross the galaxy in a matter of days, with a hyperdrive. It’s possible for some people, like me, to read minds, to lift things with a thought. In an age of easy wonders, a solution without perpetrating brutality shouldn’t be impossible. To say that it is impossible is a failure of imagination.”
“Good luck with that,” Han grunted. Luke had always been the idealist. Han preferred just to be told where to point his blaster.
“This has all been very interesting,” rumbled a hoarse, male voice behind them. “But who the hell are the two of you jokers? ‘ands up. And no funny moves, or I’ll shoot.”
“Ah,” Luke smiled, without turning around. “Right on time. The Mand’alor.”
Like the rest of the ships that had docked in the public ‘port, the Rogue Shadow was here ostensibly to trade. With its new temporary ship’s codes, it was currently named the Razorback, and Fiolla had obligingly forged a cargo manifest and given them a trading store of surplus fuel cells. Unlike many neutral ‘ports, First Order ‘ports tended to be organised, sober, and corruption-free: Ahsoka paid the harbourmaster a standard cred fee, was allowed to berth, and her manifest examined and approved. Since the trade price for fuel cells was also standardised, Ahsoka traded up through the harbourmaster and before heading into the ‘port, with Rey on her heels.
“So far so good,” Poe patched in to the both of them, his voice quiet, calm. This was something he had done before, Ahsoka sensed, though most of the time, Poe was probably the one sauntering deeper into the spaceport.
“No one’s tried to board yet,” Finn’s voice was more earnest. “I’m watching the door.”
“You do that,” Maukeen sounded amused. “Wake me if there’s anything. I’m taking a nap.”
Rey grinned, but sobered up quickly as Ahsoka glanced at her. “Be calm. You should be calm at all times,” she murmured.
“I’m trying,” Rey whispered back. “Back on Takodana, we were recognised quickly by sympathisers. Here… isn’t almost everyone a sympathiser?”
Ahsoka had heard the story. “On Takodana they no doubt recognised the unique BB-8 unit.”
Rey fell silent, until they had made their way past the harbour staff and the scattered crew of the three other freighters that had come to trade, and were alone in the jaunt lift that would take them up to the cantina floor. “People were looking at you,” she said finally, “But then they looked away again. You were turning away their minds?”
“So you noticed.” Ahsoka could not help the faint hint of approval in her voice. “When people see things that they do not expect to see, often there is a spark of disjunction. Disbelief. With a light touch, it’s possible to briefly heighten this spark - at least against the untrained or weak-minded. Particularly if they aren’t actively looking for you.”
“There isn’t that much security here so far at least.” There had been a pair of Stormtroopers by the jaunt lifts, but they had been clearly bored, waving them past without a second glance.
“And why would there be? By all reports, the First Order has concentrated its efforts on battling the New Republic’s armada.”
“If…” Rey hesitated, then she blurted out, “If something happens to Luke Skywalker… is that the end? Of everything? General Organa seemed to think so,” she added defensively, when Ahsoka glanced at her in surprise.
“Oh, child,” Ahsoka chuckled. “Empires and civilisations and ages have come and go without the influence of Luke Skywalker. Or the Jedi. Centuries into the future, everything that we do now will likely be of little consequence.”
“So… it… doesn’t matter what we do now?”
“Of course it does. All the time between now and that very distant future - there is more than ample time for cruelty. It’s cruelty that I cannot abide,” Ahsoka added. “This is my third war, and hopefully the last in my lifetime. What I’ve learned is no one really wins in a war. Everyone just loses in different degrees.”
“Really?” Rey asked, sceptical but clearly not wanting to seem rude. “Um. I mean-“
“Just speak your mind,” Ahsoka told her, and leavened the interruption with a wry smile. “I know I did that often, when I was your age. Still haven’t outgrown the habit.”
Rey opened her mouth, but the lift deposited them out onto the cantina floor. It was sober, particularly for this time of day: there was no band performing, nor did there seem to be a space set aside for a band. Instead, there was a long bar, attended to by a tired-looking old female Twi’lek, her dull green lekka limp over bent shoulders. There were no First Order personnel in sight: everyone else drinking either at the bar or at the quiet alcoves were obviously freighter crew.
Ahsoka chose an alcove behind the bar and ordered tea for the both of them, which arrived as a pot of hot water and a tiny bowl of gray leaves. “Just two leaves per cup,” Ahsoka advised, as Rey looked a little confused. “And don’t eat the leaves. They’re very bitter.” Rey was cautious at first, taking only a little sip, then instantly pulling a face. Ahsoka chuckled, despite herself, humour untwisting from her careful calm. “It’s an acquired taste.”
“If the leaves are bitter, why is the tea sour?”
“It reacts with hot water,” Ahsoka explained, and was in the middle of discussing the finer medicinal qualities of r’va leaf usage when their contact arrived: a skinny, surprisingly young woman, smiling at them both with perfectly practiced familiarity. She was dressed in the slightly grubby gray and blue station uniform of a biology engineer, and she smelled not unpleasantly of crushed leaves.
“Hello, cousin,” said the woman to Rey. “It’s good to see you again.”
Rey froze for only a fraction of a second before she knew to play along. “And you as well! Since we were passing by.”
“Can’t beat a standard price,” Ahsoka agreed, even as she quietly felt outwards, gently touching minds, learning, listening. “Didn’t feel like getting cheated over on Etrac.” Nothing. No one was paying attention to them any longer. She nodded, very slightly, and the agent’s face didn’t even change as she lowered her voice.
“No names. It’s not safe. As it is, I’m going to take a block of leave and ship out in a couple of days. Until I’m sure it’s all safe.”
“You’re a biology tech. How did you see the ship?” Ahsoka murmured.
The agent chuckled. “The things you learn when you sleep with the harbourmaster.” At Rey’s blink, the agent shrugged. “He’s not a bad sort. Yes, he mentioned an anomaly at the port. Transport got in, was holed through the cargo, clean through. Lucky their brig was separated from the cargo proper, eh? Whatever shot at them also damaged the hyperspace drive, but the delayed malfunction dropped them close to us rather than in the middle of nowhere - or in a star. They still had to burn for two weeks to get to us.”
“How did you know about the prisoners?” Ahsoka asked.
There was a ghoulish laugh. “Because the ship’s crew fed themselves first and the prisoners after, so by the time they actually got here, four of the prisoners had to be unpacked in body bags. The harbourmaster recognised one of them. Mara Fel.”
Rey looked puzzled, but Ahsoka narrowed her eyes. “Major Fel?”
“Where is this ship now?”
“They transferred their cargo into another working hauler and skipped out. But I have the other ship’s codes.” The agent passed over an infochip. “I’ve been on that ship myself, prepping live cargo for export. Good luck.”
Ahsoka said not a word until they were back aboard the Rogue Shadow. “The information seems legitimate,” she said, tossing the chip to Poe, as her crew gathered in the crew’s quarters for the debrief. “But just to be safe, jump somewhere else first, blow the freighter shell, check the ship over for a tracer, then we jump close to the codes.”
“Copy that,” Poe nodded briskly.
“Who was Major Fel?” Rey asked curiously.
“The First Order’s a military organisation, which means it’s very much a giant bureaucracy,” Ahsoka explained. “Massive enough to span several worlds. As such, a great bulk of the worlds’ day-to-day civil administration and sector governance is left to various delegates. Some of them are fanatical, like the Knights, some are more moderate.”
“Biggest fanatics usually ended up in the armada,” Finn agreed.
“Major Fel was one of the moderates: she was also behind the institution of a more objective judicial system on the First Order planets, I believe. Before, particularly before Snoke settled on Coriolis as a capital world, they tolerated the non-fanatics. It’d be a bloodbath otherwise, and they had better things to do. Hide from the greater New Republic fleet, for example.”
“But now the First Order has the great fleet, and they’ve settled on Coriolis,” Maukeen deduced quietly. “And the bloodbath has begun.”
“I hope not,” Ahsoka said tiredly. “But we will see. Either way, the Rogue Shadow is too small for a large scale rescue mission. If we can help the prisoners, we will. But we need to find this black site for information.”
“Life’s interesting around Jedi, at least,” Finn quipped, and Rey laughed, before hastily stifling her giggles with her palm. Even Poe grinned. Ahsoka shook her head, pretending to sigh in disapproval, and it only occurred to her afterwards, meditating in hyperspace, that she’d forgotten her habitual correction.
Star Wars tech plateau theories: https://www.reddit.com/r/swtor/comments/nsadb/technology_not_progressing_in_the_star_wars/
Okay I guess this chapter kinda counts as sufficient Han/Luke for me to add a pairing tag…? Or not yet…? The main pairing will still be stormpilot. Skysolo will be very sideline… if only because I’m a terribly lazy person where writing smut is concerned. ^^
Han and Luke got off the rock, palms up in the air, and turned around. The current Mand’alor was tall, his skin turned leathery and brown from different suns, his hair a murky, spiky ginger, buzzed short. Cold gray eyes stared out at them from a strong-jawed face peppered with three days’ stubble growth, crow’s feet etched against his eyes and mouth, his discoloured white long-sleeved shirt, earth-brown breeches and boots dusty at the hems. A stealth field generator around his waist told Han how the Mand’alor had come upon them from the back without Han noticing, and he had a blaster trained on them both. Han could not quite place his age. Younger than Han, older than Dameron, maybe.
Hopes for a rescue from Chewie were quickly shattered - there was a bellow of outrage from within the old hab, and soon, Chewie was marched out, hands on his hairy head, behind him a female human and a Rodian, armed with rifles. Chewie barked a rebuke at Han, who shrugged apologetically and pulled a face.
“A Wookie, a geezer dressed like a gunrunner, and a YT freighter out over at the old spaceport,” the Mand’alor drawled. “Could be I know the answer to this riddle.”
“Who’s a geezer?” Han scowled. Chewie made a whuffling sound, and Han glowered at him. “Don’t you start.”
“King Prana’s paying top creds for your hide, Solo,” the Mand’alor added, with a sharp smile, stepping briefly closer to take Han’s blaster from his holster. “Something about his collection still being incomplete.”
“Yeah, well, his new pets are still available for pickup aboard the Eravana,” Han said flatly. “And Prana technically never specified a deadline.”
“You know what Kings are like,” the Mand’alor said, already clearly growing disinterested, looking curiously at Luke instead. “And who are you?”
“New crew member. Second mate,” Han said hastily. “Doesn’t talk much.” He eyeballed Luke, trying to get Luke to let Han handle the situation.
Luke, however, merely looked at Han with a faint smile. “It never ends well when you try.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Han muttered.
“Mand’alor Krieger,” Luke glanced over to the Mand’alor. “I am Luke Skywalker.”
“Skywalker!” Krieger let out a low whistle. “Now there’s a bounty that’s even bigger than Solo and his furry friend’s. Must be my lucky day.”
“And it would have been,” Luke added softly, “If you actually did like the First Order.”
“If I had to like everyone I did business with, I’d be a poor man.”
“Hosnian Prime and the other planets. There were close to a thousand Mandalorians there, were there not? All of them dying an inglorious death. No war, just pain. Sudden and impossible and unavoidable. Like warriors they lived. Like animals they died.”
Han tensed as Krieger stiffened up and bared his teeth: anger sparked briefly in those cold gray eyes before it was burned away, back to ice. “Careful.”
“The First Order is a dangerous enemy to make. But you and those who follow the Mandalorian creed specialise in dealing with dangerous enemies. Or at least,” Luke continued dispassionately. “You used to. It’s not Hosnian Prime that has you running scared. After all, you know that Starkiller Base is gone. Scattered as the Mandalorians are, being a creed, not really a people, it won’t matter if they destroy your homeworld. Not that much. Mandalorians won’t go extinct. But you are afraid. And that’s a dangerous emotion to have on Korriban.”
Krieger growled, striding forward and hauling Luke over by twisting a fist in the front of Luke’s robes. Han started forward, but stopped hurriedly when, behind him, he heard the pointed metallic click of a blaster’s safety being thumbed off.
“Hey, everybody calm down,” Han tried hastily instead.
He was ignored. “I’m not afraid,” Krieger sneered.
“If you’re not then you’d be foolish. I’m afraid,” Luke said mildly. “I saw the Dark Side’s effects firsthand. With my father. With my nephew, when he murdered children before my eyes. Within myself. Once, a long time ago, when I gave in briefly to rage and despair.”
“Jedi aren’t meant to fear anything.” Krieger was clearly thrown by Luke’s words: his grip had loosened.
Luke smiled faintly. “That’s what we’d like you to think. Fear is normal. Without fear, how can you show courage? But you won’t find what you seek on Korriban.”
“And what do you think I seek?”
“What do all Mandalorians seek? An honourable death on the battlefield. There are relics in the tombs here, of course, particularly in the one you seek to break into. But the price you’d pay for any one of those trinkets or weapons will be too much for you.”
Krieger stared at Luke, incredulous. “And how do you know all that?”
“I’ve seen the future,” Luke said blithely, as though that was a totally normal thing to say to a Mandalorian when held at gunpoint, and Han closed his eyes. This was how it was all going to go wrong, he could sense it. He waited for the Mand’alor to sneer and snap orders, for the blasters to warm up - or for all of them to be marched forthwith into some ship’s brig. Maybe if he fell left, gave Chewie a signal, they could bust loose-
Krieger let out a harsh, barking sound, and Han opened his eyes cautiously. The Mand’alor was laughing. He shoved Luke a step back, and the strength in his grip actually nearly pushed Luke off balance. “Fucking Jedi,” he said gruffly. “Never met one before. Heard of you lot, of course. Old stories. Myths. About how you could read minds, move things with a gesture. See the future.”
“And more,” Luke agreed.
“That why you came down here? To find me? Ask me nicely not to break into a tomb?” Krieger bared his teeth again, in his lupine, mirthless smile.
“I’m here to make a bargain, actually,” Luke said mildly. “You’ve been quietly gathering your people. You even have an armada - a small one, but still impressive. You know that a storm’s coming. Your people are hungry for something greater than just another mercenary contract.”
“War is part of who we are,” Krieger said flatly. “But it doesn’t mean we’re out to commit suicide. There’s nothing glorious in that.”
“Suicide isn’t what I’d be asking from you. I told you there would be a price to pay, to open a tomb - particularly by forcing it open. I’ll help you open a tomb without having to blow in the door: I’ve been on Korriban before. The weapon you’re looking for, I know where it is. And I’ll pay the price on your behalf.”
“Luke,” Han said, aghast, and even Chewie growled an objection, nearly stepping forward before the human woman waved him back. Krieger glanced at Han, narrow-eyed, then at Chewie, and chuckled again, low and harsh.
“Your friends don’t approve.”
“That’s been the way it’s been for the past couple of decades.”
“Ha! Heard you disappeared somewhere. All sorts of theories. Someday I’d like to know.” Krieger decided. “Say you help me find what I want. And ‘pay the price’, whatever that is. What do you want in return?”
“I’ll tell you after you get what you want. After all, if you find it objectionable at that point, you still do have us at gunpoint.”
“Kid,” Han said wearily, “This is really not how you cut a deal. Haven’t you learned anything from me?” Chewie growled. “What d’you mean, I don’t know how to cut a deal either? You’re not helping, you furry lunk!”
“You’re starting to amuse me, Jedi,” Krieger smirked, and slowly lowered his blaster. “All right. At most, we’ll all have a good laugh, and I might even cash in on both your bounties afterwards. Now. Move.”
Despite the stakes - or perhaps because of them - Poe was feeling good about life. He’d always dreamed about flying X-Wings, even as a child, but sometimes, he’d also thought about having his own ship. Something larger, a ship that he could name: a ship like the Millennium Falcon, something unique that could go down in history along with its captain. Flying the Rogue Shadow was like dreaming all over again. The monster of a sublight engine that Hart and Parn had installed was only part of it: she was as sweet on the controls as anything Poe had ever flown, even that brief stint on the TIE fighter over Jakku, and she had the teeth for it. Technically, Poe didn’t even need a gunner: the quad cannon could be leashed to the missile targeting.
And he certainly didn’t need a co-pilot.
“I’m fine here,” Poe told Rey, as she popped her head into the cockpit. “Don’t you have to train?”
“Don’t you have to eat?” Rey retorted, though she grinned as she said it. “Come on. Give her up to me for a bit. We’re already in hyperspace, we won’t break anything.”
Only weeks ago, Poe had offered co-pilot control to Solo without a thought. Mere days ago, he’d even left the Rogue Shadow on auto as he’d napped on the jump to Rochor II. Now, with his hand on the flightstick, Poe felt a pang of resentment that actually surprised him into blinking. Sure, the Shadow was a sweet ship: but Poe had never been particularly possessive before. She was just a ship.
“All right there?” Rey asked curiously, and Poe very nearly flinched back into his pilot’s chair.
“Yeah. I’m fine. Have a turn.” Poe unstrapped and got up, and Rey stared at him thoughtfully for a moment before she brushed past and sat down.
Again, palm curled against the archway to the cockpit, Poe felt another pang, then he grit his teeth and headed out towards the crew’s quarters. He ate from their perishable stores, quickly and quietly - some of the rest of them had probably already eaten a short while ago, judging from the number of cups in the auto-cleanser, and Poe was slouched against the curved, cushioned back of the sabacc table’s bench, drinking coffee when Finn walked in from the training chamber, grinning when he saw Poe. The residual resentment faded.
Finn was dressed in a shirt that stuck to his shoulders from sweat, and he had a mark on his cheek that would probably bruise up. At Poe’s arched eyebrow, Finn pointed at his cheek. “This? This was me tripping on my feet and landing on my face. Maukeen laughed.”
“It’s not wise to spar with a Trianii Ranger,” Poe said, and wrinkled his nose as Finn crowded over, leaning down for a kiss. “Shower, Finn.”
Finn grinned at him instead of backing off. “I think I’ve probably got bruises in all kinds of other places,” he said, in a low voice.
Was Finn actually…? “Shower’s not that big,” Poe whispered back, though he couldn’t help the slow smile that snuck up on him, the fragile lightheaded warmth that cored through him whenever he was this close, breathing some of Finn’s air. “If you’re asking what I think you’re asking.”
“I’ve been waiting to say that to you for an hour,” Finn pulled a little face. “It kind of worked better in my head.”
“Oh, it worked,” Poe assured him, stealing a quick peck on the mouth. “Worth a shot anyway. Scandalise the crew.”
Thankfully, Tano wasn’t anywhere to be seen - Poe probably could’ve handled getting caught by anyone but the wrinkled old (ex?) Jedi. The sonic shower was already a narrow fit for one, given that the Shadow was a military ship; with two people it was like getting jammed into a crawl space. No one who loved hopping between the stars was claustrophobic, of course - almost all starships were tightly space-conscious - but Poe hadn’t been too sure about Finn. He needn’t have worried - Finn merely laughed as they struggled to get their clothes into the laundry hatch, buckles and straps getting caught against each other, and finally, naked, Finn was the one who pushed Poe up against the hull to kiss him.
Poe relaxed, closing his eyes, one palm curled up against Finn’s neck, the other splayed against the warm, humming metal behind him, thrumming with the constant background heartbeat of his ship. The air smelled of recyclers and the sweat slicked up between them and Poe was breathing even that in, greedily, glad for stolen moments. Finn’s hands were stealing lower, thumbs stroking Poe’s hips in descending circles before fingers wandered down to his ass, kneading, tentative still.
Groping against the wall until he found the sensor for the shower, Poe grinned as Finn jerked against him with a yelp, the ultrasonic vibrations efficiently working to get them both clean, far more quickly than a water shower would. Not that Poe had anything against hot showers, but with Finn crowding close again, teeth worrying at Poe’s neck, the clinical efficiency of sonics had their benefits.
“Please tell me you brought some sort of oil,” Poe gasped, as he pushed against Finn’s mouth, and felt Finn’s answering laugh shake against him, an intimacy of shared mirth made joyous by sentiment. Thankfully, Finn had thought of oil, stolen from the galley, probably, though they’d had to fumble open the laundry hatch to get it from Finn’s pockets.
“Getting good at this,” Poe said approvingly, and Finn laughed again, the first slick finger pressing teasingly against the furled opening of Poe’s hole.
“Soldiers are always prepared. Especially for a planned op.”
“Mm,” Poe groaned as the finger pressed inside, his hands climbing up to Finn’s shoulders, kneading all that hard and moulded muscle approvingly, all that strength.
Maukeen had landed a couple of other bruises on Finn, one high on his left bicep, and Finn gasped as Poe kissed the reddened mark, licking after it. He was working a kiss carefully over another, just under Finn’s collar bone, when Finn cursed and twisted carefully against him, hitching up one of Poe’s thighs and encouraging Poe to curl that around Finn’s hip, stretching him open. Poe could feel Finn’s heavy cock pressed between them, his own flesh already curved against his belly, leaking, the air recyclers whirring a little louder at their musk.
Another kiss, biting now, both of them no longer caring about marks, as Finn got in a second finger, careful and slow, always so slow. Sometimes Poe remembered to remind Finn that he wasn’t glass, to go faster, harder, but for too long violence had been part of Finn’s world, perhaps, and all that Finn would touch Poe with was gentleness and more gentleness. Three fingers. Poe wasn’t sure how long it had been since they’d squeezed into the shower. He didn’t care. Rey could fly them the whole way to their destination and he wouldn’t care. Finn’s mouth was on his now, sloppy, slipping briefly down to nuzzle his throat, hitch words Poe couldn’t make out against his pulse, then notching up again as Poe whined for another kiss, blindly begging to be anchored.
They kissed as Finn finally pushed into him, holding him up against the wall with that effortless assured strength of his, needing barely a shift of his footing against the shower deck. Poe groaned against Finn’s mouth, a high and desperate animal sound of lust and visceral relief, and Finn returned hunger for hunger, sliding deeper, his arms tense around the small of Poe’s back and against Poe’s knee, trembling with impatience. Balls deep. Maybe it was Poe who sighed, shaky with ecstasy. Maybe it was Finn. Their breaths and groans broke and fractured between them, their lips feverish against each other.
“C’mon,” Poe gasped, then, “Move, Finn, I’m ready, just-“ and he was groaning again as Finn obeyed, rolling his hips with a steady, inexorable pace that Poe knew from experience now that it could not be pushed, that he could beg and bite and threaten and all that Finn would do is laugh. Once, Finn even slowed down. Poe begged anyway, then cursed, pinned between Finn and the wall. Tano could be right outside and he didn’t care.
He wanted more, full as he was, as hot as it was to hear the satisfied strangled grunt Finn made whenever he ground himself all the way in, twisting until each thrust also tempered pleasure into Poe’s blood and whimpers onto his tongue. He didn’t want this to end. He was desperate to come. Finn had buried his mouth against Poe’s neck, his breathing going shallow, fingertips stroking the stretched muscle of Poe’s hole, pulled open around Finn’s cock. “Please,” Poe gasped. “Harder, Finn, damnyou-fuck, harder-“ Finn kissed him, swallowing the rest, and each plea after that, each curse. Satiation was a slow-building trigger, burning into a sweltering rush of euphoria, ruthlessly shared, transcendent.
Afterwards they stumbled out of the shower, re-cleansed and half-dressed, and Maukeen sniffed, curled in her bunk, as Finn grinned at her, not even remotely remorseful. At the cockpit, Rey was a little red-faced, fleeing and mumbling something under her breath when Poe told her he was taking over, and as he strapped down, Finn snickered, draped against the back of the pilot’s seat.
“Maybe you were too loud. Again.”
“Not my fault.” Poe winced a little at the ache, shifting to get more comfortable. Finn rested a palm over Poe’s shoulder, then wreathed their fingers together, squeezing, as Poe reached up for him. Beyond the transparisteel, light sped past, describing thin white spears, sleeting around them, like stellar rain.
yes star wars also has sonic showers http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Sonic_shower
Chewie was still considerably grouchy about the situation, and was pointedly ignoring him, which meant having to keep pace with Luke and the Mand’alor. “How did you find out about the map?” Krieger asked Luke.
“A broker in Bestine.”
“And my interest in it?”
“I keep an eye on the galaxy.”
Krieger sniffed. “And this favour that you’d want out of me, what is it exactly?”
“I want you to help me deliver a package.”
“Oh?” Krieger glanced at Han, who probably hadn’t hidden his own surprise in time. “You’re friends with one of the galaxy’s most notorious smugglers, Skywalker.”
“It’s not a matter suitable for his skillset.” Luke shot Han an apologetic smile that didn’t help in the least.
“You really saw the future?” Krieger asked, skeptical.
“I saw many futures,” Luke corrected. “It was interesting. Sobering, actually. This galaxy is so mired in chaos… any chance of peace balances on a thin line.”
“Peace,” Krieger spat in the dirt to his right. “Is that what you’re aiming for?”
“A semblance of it. One where galactic powers aren’t engaged in all-out war, in any case.”
“That’s not peace,” Krieger said disdainfully. “That’s merely a de-escalation. You want peace? You let the First Order win. They’ll flatten everyone out, burn those that don’t want to listen to the ground. If they get their way, the world galaxy will be dancing to Snoke’s say-so. No more war. Everyone marches in step. That’s peace for you.”
“Absolute order isn’t peace, either, not when it’s enforced by cruelty and underwritten by hatred.” Luke smiled thinly, however. “Besides. A Mandalorian isn’t interested in peace.”
“Depends on what you’re talking about,” Krieger disagreed gruffly. “What happened on Hosnian Prime… even if my own people weren’t killed… yeah. It’s not right.”
“A merc with standards,” Han said dryly, and got a glare for his efforts. More soberly, Han added, “I had friends on Hosnian Prime too. Old ones. And I saw it happen. I was on Takodana.”
“Heard they hit Takodana as well,” Krieger added. “Maz do all right?”
“She’s fine, last I heard.” Han assured him. “She’s done all right for over a thousand years, eh? Can’t break the habit of a lifetime.”
Krieger nodded. “She’s a funny one. Building a temple and a statue of herself… the hell was that all about?”
They were still trading gossip by the time they made it to the Mandalorian camp, where they were shoved into a tent and told to rest up until the morning. Left unsaid was what would happen to them if they tried to escape, but it was obvious enough. The Mand’alor had brought down a sizeable squad to handle Korriban: at least twelve armed people, all of whom looked like seasoned mercs. The patrols around the camp perimeter were tight, and most gave Chewie curious glances, but said nothing. Pros.
In the morning, they were even fed. The camp was folded down, then they set off, this time with Luke in the front, along with Krieger. Han hung back, keeping close to Chewie: being around this much exposed weaponry was making them both jittery. It was a hot day, and an hour into the trek, Chewie was letting out the occasional mournful honk, while Han had stripped off his vest, his shirt sticking to his frame: even the Mandalorians were starting to look miserable. Only Luke seemed utterly oblivious to the heat, leading them on over rocky terrain that eventually led out into a vast network of canyons, red craggy rock dipping in and up over snaking sand rivers. There was water on this harsh planet: Han had seen it flying in, smudges of blue against the red sphere - but here, on the ground, it was hard to believe that any part of Korriban could be remotely hospitable.
By the time they stopped for the night, Han ate, relieved himself in the freshly dug latrines outside the camp, and promptly went to sleep, too tired to even think about escaping, lying against Chewie’s flank as the night’s temperatures dropped back down to freezing. They found what Luke was looking for late into the second day, an unassuming cave mouth up one of the narrow dry tributaries, sandy, its high ceiling tipped with sharp-pointed rock. Light flares brought out by Krieger and the others painted sharp daggers of shadow in the natural cave, from the widening mouth to the columns of rock and scree. Further in, unnoticed until they came closer, a square door as tall as Chewie, made of black obsidian, had been set into the wall of the cave, unadorned but for some jagged writing in red-veined crystal.
“Here lieth a God of War, the Destroyer, Asag’ashedim,” Krieger translated out aloud, and clapped Luke heavily on the shoulder. “I confess I doubted you for a while. Not bad. We could’ve searched the Valley for years and never found this.”
“This is one of them haunted tombs?” Han stared at the door, blinking. “Huh.” Somehow, he’d expected something… more. More grandiose, at least. At least a frightening statue or two. “What happened, did they run out of creds? Decide to go minimal?”
“All of those tombs with grand monuments are much further in,” Luke said distractedly.
“So can you open it?” Han asked doubtfully.
“Yes. But before I do.” Luke turned to look Krieger in the eye. “Tell your men they must put away their weapons if they are to enter the crypt. They must kill nothing in there. Understand? Or you won’t get what you seek.”
“… Kid gloves then.” Krieger nodded curtly at his men. “Why? What’s in there?”
“Some things that can be reasoned with… and some that can’t. Don’t take anything more than the map.”
The map again. “We’re really here for a map?” Han demanded, incredulous. “A map to where?”
“A M-A-P,” Krieger corrected. “Mobile Assault Purifier.”
“Doesn’t tell me anything.”
“And so it shouldn’t,” Krieger growled, with a hard stare at Luke. “It’s Rakata tech. Ancient. MAP’s all I want, Skywalker. Hear that, boys and girls? No looting.”
Chewie made a worried rumble as Luke pressed his palm to the obsidian stone. “So uh,” Han said, sharing his First Mate’s misgivings, “What’s this uh, ‘price’, then?”
Luke ignored him. “Mand’alor Krieger, I need to borrow a dagger.” Krieger only hesitated for a moment, passing Luke a small boot knife. Luke cut his palm open, handing the dagger back, hilt first, then, even as Han started towards him, he pressed his palm back onto the red stone, closing his eyes.
“Luke-“ Han began, then yelped, “Luke!” when Luke took in a convulsive breath, staggered back, and collapsed, shaking, his lips moving, writhing on the sand. As Han watched in horror, blue and purple veins began to stand out, slowly, branching upwards from his fingertips, stark against paling skin. “Luke, your hand-“
“Get something in his mouth or he’ll bite his tongue,” Krieger said sharply, as Han grabbed futilely at Luke’s shoulders, getting whacked across the ribs by Luke’s synth hand. Just as Chewie and one of Krieger’s minions crowded close with a wadded rag, Luke stilled, his breathing slowing down, eyelashes fluttering, his lips still moving, as though speaking soundlessly to someone. Something. Tentatively, Han tried shaking Luke by the shoulders.
Stop that, Luke whispered in his mind, and by the way Krieger jerked back with an oath, Han knew he hadn’t been the only one who heard it. The door’s opening now. Stand by.
“Your hand, Luke-“
I’ll be fine. Stand by.
There was a creaking, groaning sound, like metal trying to shake off centuries of neglect, then the obsidian door ground backwards, and slid with an angry moan into a wall recess, revealing a dark mouth that seemed to lead away infinitely into deep shadow. Leave me here. Go. Kill nothing. Take nothing but the MAP. Han, you and Chewie have to go with Krieger.
“What? Why us?” Han objected. Chewie agreed, gesturing eloquently and rudely at Krieger and growling. As far as they were concerned, Han and Chewie were quite happy to stay outside the dark tomb. Especially if it was haunted.
“Better do as the Jedi says,” Krieger looked visibly spooked, his blaster drawn, though his grip was still steady. “Jenna, Kars, Rissa, you lot stay here with Skywalker, keep an eye out. Make sure he doesn’t bite his tongue. The rest of you, with me.”
Everyone got a glow stick, even Han and Chewie, although Krieger smirked and shook his head when Han made some hopeful noises about getting their weapons back. “What’d you need a blaster for? Your friend Skywalker said we won’t be doing any killing in here.”
“Killing, no,” Han muttered, “But if anything jumps out at me, he didn’t say nothin’ about hurting it.”
Krieger was unmoved, and soon, too distracted to talk further. Whoever the ‘God of War’ had really been in life, his tomb was thankfully not a) a maze or b) full of horrible traps: the tunnel they were in opened out into a rectangular, high-ceilinged stone chamber, vast: they could’ve fit Han’s Falcon in here, edge to edge, and the long end of the chamber petered off into darkness. Slender columns branched up from the ground to the roof, all smooth black stone lined with the strange red text, and Krieger paused at the closest one, bringing his glow stick close.
“What’s it say?” Han whispered nervously.
“Story about his deeds. People he’d killed, and so on, kingdoms he razed.”
Krieger shot Han a sharp-edged grin, then he suddenly tensed up, looking beyond Han’s shoulder. Han spun on his heel, his hand jumping for his empty holster, just in time to see something flash back at him from just out of the edge of their light, two red glowing points, before retreating. They weren’t alone in here.
“Keep a look out,” Krieger warned. “But don’t get jittery. They haven’t come at us yet.”
The big animal stink of the chamber worsened as they got deeper in. “Spread out,” Krieger ordered. “T’uy and Rso, by the door. Find me another exit-“ the rest of his words froze up into a stifled hiss as a faint red-limmed figure stepped out of the dark, translucent, like a holodeck projection. Whatever it was, it was bipedal, and was Han’s height, if stooped, face covered in a black steel ovoid with no hint of eyes or mouth. The rest of its body was swathed in black robes, along with a heavy hood, and its hands were unnaturally long, spindly.
Everyone armed had drawn and raised their weapons. Chewie let out an alarmed yowl, and Han snapped, “Nobody shoot!”
Reluctantly, Krieger lowered his blaster. “Weapons cold, everyone. Back off. Ain’t here for us. Look.”
The apparition was ignoring them, turning to a side. “Skywalker, you say,” it whispered, the voice from everywhere - the ground, the walls, dry like crackling old paper, whispery, vaguely male. “I knew a Skywalker… Ah. Your father. Yes.” This was the wraith of the tomb, then, talking to Luke. Krieger motioned urgently, and they gave the ghost a wide berth, following the smooth walls. Asag’ashedim, if that was his name, didn’t seem to notice them go. “There was a tomb built for him, did you know? Blood of the Sky. Oh yes. You did come to the Valley.”
Asag’ashedim’s whispery voice followed them in a dull echo as they found the first opening in the wall. Krieger didn’t move to head in - instead he made a full circuit of the large chamber. Four openings in total, not including the exit. He split his team, leaving Han and Chewie to follow him down the last archway, the only one built tall enough for Chewie.
It didn’t take long for things to go wrong. All of them froze as, behind them, someone started to scream, then two, then three. Krieger swore. “Whir’s team.” He started to head back, but Han grabbed his elbow tightly.
“Wait. Whatever you’re here for. We move in, grab it, get out.” At Krieger’s furious glare, Han added, “I bet you didn’t pick this corridor by mistake. It’s the only one as tall as the exit, but that ghost guy’s ‘bout my height.” When Krieger wavered, Han added impatiently, “Give me and Chewie back our weapons and we’ll go get whatever it is. You can go help your guys. I don’t want to be in here any longer than I have to.”
Krieger nodded curtly at the female Mandalorian Twi’lek behind them, and she reluctantly handed back Han’s blaster, even as the tall male human beside her gave Chewie back his bowcaster. “Go assist Whir,” he told them both. “Solo and the Wookie will come with me.”
“But sir,” said the Twi’lek, uncomfortably.
“Think we’re a little beyond shooting each other in the back in a fucking haunted tomb,” Han said tensely.
“Go, Lena.” Krieger insisted, and the Mandalorians turned, jogging briskly back towards the main corridor. To the screams, and the all-too-brief sounds of blaster fire. Krieger’s expression tightened. “We’d better hurry.”
After having gone to all the trouble of landing on an Evil Death Sith planet and then being dragged over said planet by hostile Mandalorians, then being taken to a Secret Cave of a War God or whatever this was, the room at the end of the high corridor was a bit of a disappointment. It was another high-ceilinged room, circular, and dominated by a black glass-like disc, upon which a large metal… cubical… thing… sat, with strange seams and cracks in its shell, half as long as Krieger was tall. A dead human lay curled against the wall, so desiccated that Han couldn’t quite tell whether the human had once been male or female.
“This is it?” Han asked doubtfully, staring at the box, as Krieger eagerly stepped closer. “Funny. I kinda thought it was going to be a… a sword. Or a gun, or a big missile.”
“This is it,” Krieger said, circling around until he found what he was looking for, pressing something in the flank of the box. There was a whirring, grinding sound, metal on metal, then the box seemed to unpack outwards, pieces unfolding, refitting together, winding upwards, a mechanical, precise decompression that took only a matter of minutes. “Yes. Yes. It still works!”
What Krieger and Luke had called a ‘MAP’ was a silver machine, as tall as Chewie, with a part transparisteel pilot’s pod cradled between twin shoulder missile banks and armoured flanks. Servo arms had inbuilt quad turrets slung over their lengths, and its heavily armoured shoulders and legs had handholds, possibly for passengers. Krieger clambered into the pod as the glass hissed open, and it closed behind him, the MAP shaking and stepping back heavily as Krieger gave the controls a whirl.
“All right,” Krieger said, his voice tinny from behind the pod, savagely gleeful. “Solo, hang on to the side. Chewbacca, keep behind me. Let’s see what’s killing my people.”
“Pretty sure we should be getting out of here,” Han protested, though he clambered up, clinging on for dear life as Krieger took a cautious step forward. Hooking an arm against the bar, Han left his blaster hand free, blaster safety off. Behind them, Chewie kept pace, occasionally growling in protest, shooting nervous glances behind his shoulder.
Outside, all of Krieger’s men had already joined the firefight, blaster fire and screams echoing cacophonously off the walls. They were fighting huge beasts, each as tall at the shoulder as a human, flanks covered with tiny blue scales, massive jaws filled with triple rows of teeth, huge claws tipping their four heavy paws and three sloping, sharp-tipped horns behind their vulpine muzzles, spikes running down their spines to a long and prehensile lizard-like tail. There were three of them, and some of Krieger’s men were already dead, ripped apart: the air stank of gore and vomit and blood and burned flesh.
“Fall back!” Krieger snapped, turning to face the monsters, and abruptly, the ghost whirled around, as though seeing them for the first time, staring right at the MAP, straightening up, as though in anticipation.
“Don’t fire!” Han slapped at one of the missile banks. “Let’s just get the hell out of here! Don’t fire!”
Krieger hesitated, and Asag’ashedim snarled, so loudly that Han nearly let go to clap his hands over his head. The beasts backed off a step, hissing and slavering, then one leaped forward, snapping off Lena’s head in a single bite, the twitching corpse of the Twi’lek falling to the ground. “Don’t!” Han yelped, knowing, somehow: if Krieger opened up with the MAP - Han knew they were all going to die. Hearing the panic in Han’s voice, Krieger took an uneasy step back.
Then the Mand’alor turned, shouting, “Fall back! Fall back!” and everyone fled for the exit, Chewie howling behind them, Asag’ashedim starting to shriek, in an unholy ululating battle cry that echoed grotesquely around the stone, feeding back at them from everywhere. Behind, to Han’s horror, some of the bodies were starting to get up, headless, armless, puppet-like, jerking up in harsh degrees, starting after them, faster than they should be. The beasts bowled over the corpses, lunging for the survivors, one crushing a Rodian’s spine, one tearing a chunk off a Zabrak’s neck, their jaws so close, not even bothering to stop and worry the bodies-
-and then they were out, stampeding, and for a moment Han froze, thinking that they’d trampled over Luke, when he realized that Luke was standing up, behind them now, hands up, the bloody hand and the synth hand. The closest beast crouched, ready to pounce, and Luke snapped something at it, in a strange, glottal tongue, and it hesitated, tilting its head to a side. Luke spoke again, more gently this time, and the beast behind the first whined, the last snarling, then shaking its head and letting out a grunt. A final word from Luke, and the two beasts in the back turned, padding away, returning into the shadows, and the snarls of rage from Asag’ashedim abruptly cut off, growing silent.
The last creature stayed, however, its head tilting from left to right, licking its bloodied jowls, watching them, but not making a move, its red eyes unsettlingly bright in its narrow face, its flanks blackened with blaster fire, wounds that it ignored. Han chanced a quick look around. They’d lost half of the Mandalorians: other than the three who’d been left outside, there were three remaining, one of whom had been badly mauled, claw marks raked bloody over his back. Krieger hesitated, then he disengaged from the MAP, slipping out and coming cautiously up to Luke’s side.
“All right, Skywalker,” Krieger said quietly. “Close it up. We’re done here.”
Krieger let out a startled, uncertain laugh, glancing over at the beast, not that it bothered to look at anyone but Luke. “Sure. I… I guess I do owe you. What do you want, then? What’s this package of yours?”
“You’re looking at it,” Luke said mildly.
“That?” Krieger asked, incredulous. “Those things ate half my men!” The large beast hissed, tail swiping back and forth behind it.
“Your people shot first, Mand’alor. The tuk’ata won’t attack you or your people further - if it isn’t interfered with. Muzzle it, if you have to.”
Krieger shot the creature a dubious look. “I… hell. Fine. Deal’s a deal. Where do I get that to? Or who?”
“Coriolis. General Leia Organa.”
the tortured history of the Darth title, or, why I ended up being too lazy to try and fit it in continuity wise: http://theunion4ever.com/nerd-bucket/sbswa-the-darth-name/
A frigate sat quiescent beside the First Order prison: a satellite built onto a large asteroid. Steel domes and bulbous projections broke out of the pitted surface of the asteroid at uneven intervals, and on the whole, it looked like some sort of brown, diseased fruit, part-eaten by some steel-coloured cancer. The asteroid was rotating gently: probably enough for one gee of gravity, though Poe couldn’t see what was making something so large go. The same ancient tech that had supposedly powered Starkiller base, perhaps.
Tano was in the cockpit with him: Finn and Rey were teaming up against Maukeen, a fight that was probably not going too well for the pair - now and then, Poe could hear the occasional loud exclamation of dismay from Finn, or laughter from the big Trianii. “We have to be giving off heat,” Tano said thoughtfully, eyeing the spec of grey that was all that the frigate looked like from this distance.
“We are, but she’s built to hide it.” Poe patted the side of one of his data panels affectionately. “Whoever made her tried to think of everything.”
“The Empire made her.”
“She can’t help that,” Poe said defensively, narrowing his eyes as he glanced up at Tano.
Tano returned a faint smile. “You and Rey should take shifts. Or I could fly,” she added. “I’m a fair pilot myself, though of course not of your caliber.”
“I’m fine. This is my ship.” Poe felt irritated now. “Let me do my job. That’s why you wanted me along anyway, didn’t you?”
“I wanted a great pilot along. I didn’t want someone who might burn himself out with low sleep and then pass out when I need him most,” Tano said evenly, studying Poe thoughtfully. “Hm. Did you know. That small storage chamber, where Fiolla put all the fruits… that’s actually a meditation chamber, for the Force-sensitive.”
“Oh, um,” Poe blinked, a little thrown by the sudden change in topic. “Finn and I could move the boxes into the cargo hold, if you or Rey want to use it.”
“My point is,” Tano said mildly, “This is an Empire ship. And it was made with a meditation chamber. Do you see where I’m coming from, now?”
Ah. “Maybe it was Vader’s ship. Or a Sith ship,” Poe said, defensive again. “So what? She’ll serve us fine. Previous owner’s nowhere to be seen, and she’s got new ship codes. New everything under the hood, if you believe Fiolla.”
“I took a look in the copy of the Rogue Shadow’s databanks, back on Lorrd,” Tano added quietly. “She wasn’t Vader’s ship. But she was a Sith ship. And she was usually crewed by a roster of eight pilots.”
“That’s… weird.” Why would a ship need eight pilots? Especially this ship?
“I’ve been watching you, Dameron,” Tano’s tone was gentle now. “You’ve been getting more short tempered lately, haven’t you? Think about it.”
“What are you trying to say?” Poe asked stiffly.
“Merely suggesting that you watch yourself. Sometimes, the Force affects the world in unexpected ways. The Jedi Order studied it for centuries, but a great deal of what we know about the Force is still quite uncertain.”
Before Poe could say anything else, though, Tano nodded at him, and turned to head back towards the crew quarters. Bemused, Poe watched her go, then he looked back over at the frigate standing guard over the rotating prison station. Whatever Tano was trying to tell him, in her typically Mysterious Older Jedi way, it couldn’t have been more important than the immediate problem ahead. How the hell were they meant to land on the black site unobserved?
He raised the question at dinner, when the ship was sitting on auto. The sabacc table was projecting a holo of the black site and its frigate escort, along with its slow rotation. Rey, Finn and Poe were sitting on the bench, having stew from the replicator, Maukeen had pulled up a mag-chair, and Tano was on a crate, eating some of the last reserves of their dried Lorrdian fruit.
“Way I see it,” Finn said doubtfully, “If the shielding’s the same as Starkiller base - and it probably is - then we’re gonna have to approach at light speed. Except that on something as small as that asteroid, we’ll definitely crash into something.”
“We’re certainly not doing that,” Poe decided quickly. “Or we won’t have a ride off that rock.”
“Don’t they have to drop the shield sooner or later? If transports come and go?” Rey asked. “When they do, we could land quickly here,” she pointed at a section which was mostly the asteroid’s surface, “And get in through a service door on one of the domes.”
“That could mean us sitting here for weeks. Or longer.” Maukeen grunted. “Run the risk of getting discovered sooner or later.”
“First Order radar doesn’t always track things smaller than a TIE fighter,” Tano observed from her corner. “And shielding that isn’t from a planetary generator - which the asteroid is too small to hold - isn’t that impermeable. Getting in isn’t the problem. We have vacuum suits aboard this ship, with jetpacks. If Dameron takes us as close as he can to the shielding, we should be able to jet through and make planetfall.”
Rey blinked. “You’d think that they would've thought of that.”
“No, that’s right,” Finn agreed, grinning now. “Radar kinda assumes any enemies will come in on a ship. And if they do, that’s what the frigate’s there for: normal ships get picked up, easy. No one expects people to just make a long drop by themselves with no ship - after all, it’s impossible to make a hyperspace jump without a starship. If we go in just on a vacuum suit, we’ll be under the radar. And we’ll get through most shields, ‘cos we won’t register as missiles. Ain’t that fast-moving, nor would we have guidance codes or the high heat sigs that’d show up on radar.”
“Getting out is the problem,” Tano nodded. “We’ll have to check the black site for information, possibly help prisoners, and disable the shielding so that Dameron can come by for a pickup. Depending on the number of prisoners, we’ll either have to hijack another ship or squeeze them into the Rogue Shadow. But the moment we drop the shielding, that frigate’s going to notice.”
“The Rogue Shadow should be able to outmanoeuvre it,” Poe said confidently. “If it can’t get a lock on us on the radar, it’s going to have to do it manually, and we’ll be hard to pick out even on a visual.”
“Navigating the prison’s going to be a problem,” Maukeen said quietly. “We’ll be going in blind. And the longer we’re in there, the higher the chance we’ll be found - and overwhelmed.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Tano agreed grimly. “And I have a solution, probably. If we clear the boxes out of the meditation chamber, I should be able to use it to coordinate all of you through the black site. Dameron and I will stay in orbit. Maukeen, you’ll have to lead Finn and Rey to the control banks, and download it into a data chip. After that… we’ll do what we can.”
“If we have to skip out on another ship for any reason, don’t jump straight back to Lorrd,” Finn told Maukeen, who nodded. “First Order tracks all its ships.”
“Any other questions? Comments? Good. Get armed and suited. Dameron, let us know when everyone’s in position.” Tano put her empty bowl away, and started for the chamber, presumably to clear it out - Rey scurried quickly after her. Maukeen glanced over at Poe, then at Finn, flicked her tail, and ambled off towards the cargo space.
Finn blinked as Poe nudged closer, pressing his mouth against the slow pulse at Finn’s neck, feeling it kick up. An arm curled around Poe’s waist, and they listened to each other breathe for a while, above the background hum of the air recyclers. Finally, Poe murmured, “Come back to me, all right?”
“You know I will.” Finn kissed Poe on his head, then on the mouth, as Poe tipped up his chin. Letting go was always the hardest part.
For a moment, Ahsoka thought there was something wrong. Something felt different around her, and she felt around the edges of that sensation, probing carefully at it. It wasn’t until she heard Poe say, as though from a distance, “They’re clear,” that Ahsoka finally understood. Here, within the meditation chamber, she felt fully focused again, clear-minded, as though she was breathing fresh air. The faint sense of oppressiveness was gone.
She reached further, centering herself, stretching the net wider - but she didn’t have far to look. That sense of strangeness, of something other, was right there, in the rest of the ship. And it grew stronger near Poe Dameron. It wasn’t… malevolent, not exactly. Possessive, was more accurate. Impossible as it was. But as Ahsoka herself had told Poe, the Force wasn’t something that even the Order had fully understood, and besides, even droids were fairly self-aware. And what was a starship as advanced as the Rogue Shadow but a highly complex hyperdrive-capable computer?
“Shield’s letting them through,” Poe reported briskly. “They’re on tangent for planetfall.”
“The frigate?” Ahsoka asked out aloud.
“We’re in the shadow of the asteroid. Frigate hasn’t moved.”
“Let’s hope it stays that way.” Ahsoka breathed in, and out. Her mind was a little fish, leaping outward.
Beyond Maukeen’s eyes were the stars, growing further and further away, as the asteroid loomed large, the pitted surface becoming great craters. In Maukeen’s vacuum suit, all Maukeen could hear was her own breathing, even, not even a tick higher, as though she was taking a stroll on her homeworld instead of making a long drop onto enemy territory. Rey and Finn, in comparison, were excited, though Finn had the training to keep it under wraps: in contrast Rey was exhilarated. Battle euphoria. Ahsoka let it pass - if it was a problem planetside, Maukeen would let Rey know.
Maukeen and Finn landed lightly, while Rey stumbled, nearly floating off before Finn steadied her quickly and she shut off her jetpack. They didn’t need magboots, with the station’s rotational gravity, but there wasn’t any breathable atmosphere. From Maukeen’s view, Ahsoka could make out two large steel domes, before her and to her right, rising out over the lip of the crater they had landed in. Ahsoka reached further, feeling out, testing, then whispered right into Maukeen’s mind.
“We go right,” Maukeen said briskly, into the closed comm loop. “While we’re in there, keep any chatter to a minimum. Don’t talk unless you have something important to point out.”
“Affirmative.” Finn’s voice had slipped into a crisp military tone, all business now. His grip on his blaster rifle was loose and easy, and his mind was calm: the First Order trained their stormtroopers well.
“Sure,” Rey said, still a little breathless with excitement. She had calmed down a little by the time they found the service door in the side of the dome, though she was still sneaking peeks around the asteroid, as though awed by the scale, the small space station bordered only by empty space, the vast bowl of the universe all around her. Maukeen was splicing the airlock door, her hands clumsy in the thick gloves of the vacuum suit, and she was cursing under her breath in Trianii.
“They’re in,” Ahsoka said out aloud, when Maukeen got the airlock open. The inner airlock didn’t need security: decompression was efficient and quick. They stripped out of their vacuum suits beyond the inner airlock, in a small chamber of cleaning equipment and sensor gear, with lockers holding other vacuum suits. This chamber hadn’t been used for a while - dust floated lazily in the air as they stacked their gear onto a bench.
Clear, Ahsoka murmured into Maukeen’s mind, as they moved to the other exit in the chamber. It opened into a maintenance shaft, the metal grille of the floor cold under Maukeen’s paws.
Head down there, Ahsoka added, as they came to the first floor hatch. Beyond, the tunnel stretched out, hugging the edge of the steel dome. Noiselessly, Maukeen and Finn hauled up the hatch, peering down - this shaft led straight down to another walkway, the wall lined with metal rungs. Maukeen was the first down, sniffing at the air. The scents were thicker here. She gestured at Rey and Finn curtly, and they all flattened themselves up against the cold steel: beyond, a small service ‘droid was rolling past. In the meditation chamber, Ahsoka grimaced. She’d missed that.
They encountered their first stormtrooper patrol minutes in, ducking into a side tunnel just in time after Ahsoka’s warning. Gleaning information off the patrol was difficult: even with the meditation chamber, with the distance in between it was too much of a delicate job. Ahsoka had only images, impressions.
“Okay,” Finn whispered, before Ahsoka had to admit that she wouldn’t be of much further help, “First Order orbital bases are all built along the same kind of logic. I’m pretty sure we’re currently in one of the maintenance silos. Where they put the big solar batteries and the air recyclers and the sewage facilities. Base like this, there’s probably at least two of these silos.”
“Where do you think the databank we need might be?” Maukeen whispered back.
“There’s usually a… a central computer core. It’ll be in a silo of its own, near a silo like this. Needs a lot of power. And it’ll be big, because it’ll be running life support, admin, flight coordination, security, shields, a private HoloNet, comms, and rotation for one gee. Everything.”
Rey looked/felt impressed. “Nothing like insider information.”
Finn looked slightly embarrassed. “I didn’t get it because I was higher up or anything, just that I’ve scrubbed my fair share of silos-”
“Talk later,” Maukeen said curtly. “Finn, try and ID the way to the computer silo. Now move.”
It took a few false turns, but Finn finally located another service tunnel leading outwards from the maintenance silo. His step was growing confident: all this felt familiar to Finn. Listening quietly to Finn’s surface thoughts mapping out routes, Ahsoka didn’t realize she was being spoken to until a hand tentatively touched her shoulder.
She nearly flinched awake, and only held on through sheer discipline. Frowning to herself, concentrating, she withdrew enough to place Poe, crouched beside her, radiating concern. “I’m fine, Dameron,” Ahsoka muttered. “Go away.”
“You didn’t respond to a comm question so I got worried.” Poe was backing off. “Everything all right?”
“They’re fine. Watch the ship. Don’t interrupt me again, please.”
“All right. Sorry.” Poe was nervous, she could feel it. He was an experienced operative, but sitting up here in relative safety while everyone else was planetside was starting to wear on his nerves. Distantly, Ahsoka could hear BB-8 beeping comfortingly, but she shut it all off, dived-
Maukeen was splicing into a blast door. Quickly, Ahsoka reached in, searching, a small fish, looking for others. She didn’t have far to look. Three inside, she murmured to them all, and felt/saw Finn stiffen, surprised. Techs.
“Civilians?” Rey whispered.
Not exactly, Ahsoka replied, even as Finn murmured, “No one on a base like this is a civvie. But they’re probably noncoms. Non-combatants,” he elaborated, as Rey blinked in confusion.
“So,” she said uncertainly, “We’re just going to kill them?”
Finn stared at her. “Problem?”
“I, well, I mean, maybe we could knock them out, or-“
“Rey,” Finn said patiently, “On Starkiller base, there were probably close to half a million noncoms. Nobody seems to have lost any sleep over that. What’s three more?”
“‘What’s three more’?” Rey repeated, in an incredulous whisper. “We’re going to be shooting unarmed people in the head?”
“When you shoot someone you should actually aim for centre mass-“
Finn looked/felt increasingly bewildered by Rey’s anger. “Firstly, we’ve got an objective to take. Secondly, we don’t know if they’re unarmed-“
“Quiet,” Maukeen cut in, growling. “Follow my lead.”
Ahsoka almost didn’t want to watch what happened next. Maukeen was the first into the next room, some sort of central switchboard room of a sort, comm equipment everywhere, the main deck in a U-shape with the bend facing the outer door. The three techs were behind it, rising out of their seat in shock, but Maukeen was already on top of the first one, in a huge leap, coming down with her weight on his shoulders, and he went down on the deck, the floor knocking him unconscious. She didn’t even wait to check: her paw-hand was around the neck of the next, swinging him roughly around, whacking his skull against a flat section of the deck with momentum behind her. The last tech fumbled up her blaster, mouth open in a little ‘o’ of shock, but she froze as Finn prodded her briefly in the back with the muzzle of his rifle.
“Drop it,” Finn snapped curtly. The tech’s grip on her blaster trembled, but eventually, she lowered the gun. Maukeen disarmed her, briskly, then jabbed out with the flat of her palm, getting in just under the tech’s jaw, knocking her out. Catching the tech before she fell, Maukeen shuffled the bodies to a side, and glanced at the comm deck, then back up at Finn.
“This deck’s just comms,” Finn shook his head. “By the way, when those three wake up, they’re gonna raise the alarm.”
The door closed behind Rey as she stepped into the room, a little shaky. “They’re unconscious. We can’t just-“
“I wasn’t saying that. There should be a first aid kit around here somewhere, with emergency sedatives. Standard issue, military-grade. We give them all a shot, they should be out for three hours, tops. Main databanks are through there,” Finn gestured at a translucent black glass panel that looked through into rows upon rows of dark cases, each taller than Maukeen. “Should have a central server deck somewhere. Usually for installing updates, but you can link up to the banks from there.”
Maukeen nodded, padding up to the panel, which slid aside for her to pass. Finn and Rey for a while searched for the kit, locating it finally next to the air filters. “Finn,” Rey said uncertainly.
“Sorry.” He didn’t look at her. “I keep forgetting… most of the rest of you. Most of you grew up different. I shouldn’t have said anything. This is Maukeen’s op.”
“You… you wouldn’t have felt bad? If we killed them?”
“Did you feel bad when everyone in Starkiller base died?” Finn’s voice wasn’t even accusing - it was genuinely curious.
“Of course!” Rey hissed. “I hate that they had to die. Why did it have to be us or them? There’s already so much death and suffering in the galaxy. You were First Order. There might’ve been others down there just like you. Who just didn’t have the opportunity to get free. You… you probably had friends in the First Order, didn’t you? Maybe even on the base? I’m sorry.”
“Whoah,” Finn stared at her in surprise, even as, startled, Ahsoka felt a sudden rush of warmth and pride. “You know. Nobody over on D’Qar felt bad about it at all. They were all glad, actually. When I was recovering. Nobody really cared if I knew anyone else down there. Or what I thought about it. Well… Poe asked, kind of. But I think my answer pissed him off. Thing is,” Finn added, as they administered the sedatives, “I also think it’s a sad thing, that we’ve got to fight. But it’s unavoidable. So while we’re on an op like this, it’s best not to second guess yourself. Or you’ll get hurt.”
“…I wish I asked Ahsoka what she thought about all this,” Rey said unhappily.
“Could ask her now.” Finn tapped at his head. “Isn’t she listening in?”
“She’s probably with Maukeen. I’ve told you. Ahsoka doesn’t like me,” Rey observed glumly, and Ahsoka guiltily retreated, picking up on Maukeen instead. The Trianii Ranger had bypassed security, downloading data into her datachip, and she was watching the progress bar on the screen.
“Ahsoka?” Maukeen murmured.
“The shielding will come down soon - I logged in a timed-release code. Hopefully that'll help us get to the hangars unnoticed. I also took a quick look in the databanks,” Maukeen added. “The prisoner logs, in particular.”
And? Ahsoka felt a stir of interest. The prisoner logs-
“General Organa wasn’t the only prisoner taken off D’Qar.” Maukeen paused, confused. “There’s also a… protocol ‘droid?”
She was watching a surprisingly decent documentary about a silicon-based life-form discovered by First Order scientists on a new moon in Unknown Space when the door opened. It was Ben, fully helmed, striding in: there was a stiff anger to his step, and Leia swallowed a sigh. “If you’re going to throw a tantrum,” she suggested distractedly, “Don’t break the holodeck.”
Ben clenched his fists, and instead of starting on one of his tirades, he grit out, “Supreme Leader Snoke wants to see you. Now.”
Finally. Leia was careful not to look surprised. “I’ll get changed, then.”
“You can see him as you are.”
Leia sighed. “Ben. If I’m going to meet the leader of the First Order, then I want to appear presentable.” She swept off to the bathroom without a further word, closed the door, and waited. As she’d hoped, Ben only spat out a curse, but stayed where he was. Leia smirked. Now she was beginning to play a dangerous game, but that was the nature of politics.
She made very little effort to actually tidy up, though she did bang around the bathroom, keeping an ear out. It was only when Leia could sense that Ben’s impatience was on the verge of tipping over did she sweep out, without an apology, and as they headed out of her cell, she kept her expression impassive.
“I know what you’re doing,” Ben growled, as he kept pace beside her. “It’s petty.”
For a moment, Leia nearly laughed, or said something sardonic about pots and kettles, but somehow, she managed to smile serenely at Ben instead. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
This kept him quiet, if fuming, all the way through the vast cathedral hallways of the First Order’s High Temple - a nicely hubristic name: she’d chuckled to herself when she had first heard it so named. Security was tight - Leia lost count of hte number of patrols they passed on their way to the jaunt lifts that took them to the highest floor.
Snoke’s audience chamber.
It wasn’t the first time Leia had been in Snoke’s presence, and the creature still unnerved her. Snoke was of no species that Leia had ever seen before: spindly, taller than a human, but painfully thin, as though compressed in his frame, the flesh squeezed up into a bulbous head. His skin was a strange pale pink, stretched thin over fine bones, and his startlingly blue eyes were large and pitiless in his solemn face, the left eye lower in his stretched, scarred flesh than the right, perched over a badly reset nose. Black robes draped the steel throne that he sat in, spidery fingers curled over the arm rests.
They weren’t alone. To Leia’s surprise, there was a man standing before Snoke, a stranger, certainly no First Order operative, by his gear, a spacer’s rig: old white shirt, dusty breeches and boots, slung belts over narrow hips. But the stranger wasn’t the oddest newcomer - that dubious honour belonged squarely to the massive beast behind him, that stood as tall at the shoulder as the man, four-legged, with a spiked spine and a long, lizard-like tail, its scaly hide blackened across the ribs, as though healing from blaster fire. Its huge toothy jaw was muzzled shut with heavy leather straps, though judging from the surprisingly intelligent look that the creature threw at them as they approached, and its huge, clawed feet, Leia guessed that the muzzle was at best a formality, if the creature decided to grow violent.
The man brightened up when she approached, and - a second surprise - actually executed a courtly, Corellian-style bow. “Princess Leia.”
Princess. Leia swallowed her usual retort, managing a smile instead. “You have the advantage of me, sir-?”
“This is the current Mand’alor,” Snoke said, in his rasping voice. “Krieger Ordo.”
“Clan Ordo? Now that’s an ancient name. I’m honoured to meet you, Mand’alor Krieger.” Leia said, unable to hide her curiosity… and dismay. Small as the Mandalorian forces were in the scale of matters, by last report, they were ferocious fighters, particularly since they held no real fear of death. If they joined with the First Order-
“As am I.” Krieger was studying her with open curiosity, which puzzled Leia. She had been told that she was beautiful in her youth, but time had a way of eroding physical beauty, and it had not been something that she had cared to maintain. But… no, there was nothing sexual in Krieger’s stare. The curiosity was something else. “I’m here to deliver a present,” Krieger added, finally, and jerked his chin at the huge beast behind him. “Fresh out of Korriban.”
“Korriban!” Ben sucked in a sharp breath, and even Leia stiffened. Luke had ordered all coordinates of that cursed planet wiped from New Republic databanks.
“And what were you doing on Korriban, Mand’alor?” Snoke inquired.
“What do people do on Korriban? Visit the tombs, of course,” Krieger said cavalierly. “Ran into one Skywalker there, communing with a Sith Lord ghost, and he told me to deliver one of these to the other Skywalker.” The great beast hissed, as though in agreement. “Damnedest thing. It ate a few of my men before Skywalker told it to stop. If you don’t mind me saying, Princess,” Krieger added, “Your brother can be a bit of an asshole.”
“On Korriban… talking to the Sith?” Snoke mused, his hairless brow creasing.
“Impossible,” Ben growled. “This man is a liar.”
“And yet that is a true tuk’ata. A Sith Hound,” Snoke said quietly, and then he smiled, with malicious amusement. “Well, well. You Skywalkers did always walk quite closely to the Dark.”
Impossible. It was impossible. Not her Luke. Not her brother. Leia nearly snarled something, a denial, but something in Krieger’s face stopped the fury at the tip of her tongue. He was watching her with the same careful curiosity as before. Waiting for a reaction. A test. Was this a test? Leia stared at the creature that Snoke had called a tuk’ata, and clenched her hands, her palms feeling suddenly clammy, as it stared straight back at her, unblinkingly. She could… feel it, somehow, the dim edges of it, the knife-sharp predatory edges of its mind. And it knew her. Someone - Luke - had told it of her.
This was a test. Luke was asking her to have faith.
Leia took in a slow breath, then she beckoned curtly to it. The tuk’ata shook itself, rattling its spines, its ears flicking forward, then back. It shifted its weight from paw to paw, as though indecisive, then it padded over, snorting loudly, hell, the animal stink of it, those eyes. It stopped before her, within striking range, and Leia shoved down her instinctive fear, her distrust. She reached out, patting its narrow nose, with as much confidence as she could muster. It sniffed her hand, its breath like great, hot bellows, then it rubbed its muzzle gently against her fingers. She could feel its mind now, sharper, somehow, the way she had once felt Luke’s. Distant.
“There are… two more,” Leia said, concentrating. “Where are they?”
Krieger’s eyebrows raised a fraction. “Back on Korriban, Princess.” There was an odd note of respect in his voice now. “Guess you really are Vader’s daughter.” It took all of Leia’s self-control not to flinch. “Interested in a private army? Me and the boys, we’re not up to much else right now.”
“Hold on,” Ben growled. “If you choose to serve Leia, you choose war against the First Order. And we’ll cut you down right here.”
“Big words, kid,” Krieger drawled. “Know what the Mandalorians were famous for, back in the day? Jedi killing. Whether you’ve got a red sword or a blue one, won’t matter fuck to me. Want to give it a shot?”
Ben clenched his hands tightly, taking a step forward, and Leia said, as flatly as she could, “Serving me does not necessarily mean war against the First Order.”
“Oh?” Snoke inquired. “You are a General of a defeated army. Once you led the Rebellion that toppled the Empire. What are you now?”
“As the Mand’alor said. I am Vader’s daughter. And Luke Skywalker’s sister. If he’s on speaking terms with the Dark Lords on Korriban… I’m curious to know why. I think you are, as well.”
“Vader’s daughter, Vader’s grandson,” Snoke mused out aloud. “Both of you are Force-sensitive. One stronger than the other. One… untrained.” He smiled thinly, suddenly, cruelly. “Although the First Order is not Sith… the Rule of Two set down by the late Darth Bane has a logic to it that I cannot deny. There can only be one master, and one apprentice. Here I see before me two of the blood of Vader.” He steepled his long, spindly fingers together before him, and leaned forward slightly. “Help me choose.”
Leia had been prepared for this day, deep down, but when Ben took a step back, and plucked his ‘saber from his belt, she still felt betrayed, all over again.
Betrayed, and furious.
Rey glowered at him. “How could you say that? ‘Droids are some of the nicest-“
“We are not going to discuss philosophy now,” Maukeen growled, as they headed briskly down another service hatch and into a filter maintenance tunnel. “Ahsoka wants this ‘droid, so, Ahsoka will have this ‘droid. Also there are other prisoners, remember?”
“It’s your op,” Finn said meekly. Ahsoka coasted with them for a while, trying to concentrate, but finally a nagging sense of something needing her attention got to her, and she pulled away, almost surfacing.
“Now what?” Ahsoka growled.
“Sorry about the interruption,” Poe said, sounding strained - he’d probably tried to hail her over the comms a few times. “But the frigate’s on the move.”
Ah hell. “Coming over here?”
“Moving closer to the station, actually. But it’s also beginning to feed out TIE fighters. I know we’re good on radar, but if any of those get too close…”
“That’s all?” Ahsoka asked, relieved. “TIE fighters only?” Space was damned big, and a visual match was going to be difficult: they could stay put unless a fighter was about to run right into them.
“… Pretty sure that larger blip heading planetside is a transport.”
So it was all going to hell after all. Ahsoka nibbled on her lower lip, thinking quickly. If Maukeen and the others came back now, it’d be a race between them coming back aboard and the TIE fighters spotting them jumping off planet, and it would be a race they would lose. But if the Rogue Shadow landed planetside, against the rock it was probably going to be spotted more easily.
“If we keep the asteroid between ourselves and the frigate’s ventral cannons, how much mischief can we make?”
“I wouldn’t worry about ventral cannons with this girl from this distance,” Poe said confidently. “They can’t lock on to what they can’t see. And hell, we can make a lot of mischief.”
“Do you need a gunner?”
“I think the others probably need your guidance more than I need a gunner.”
“All right.” Ahsoka breathed in, harshly, then let it out. “Destroy that transport if you can: the fewer reinforcements getting planetside, the better. Other than that, fire at will. I’m going to go back to the others. And try not to get us blown up.”
Poe laughed, but Ahsoka could hear the nervousness in his voice. “Copy that.”
The alarm’s been raised, Ahsoka reported to the three of them, when she found them again: it was difficult, concentrating, now that Poe was on the move. The distance was stretching out between them: she could barely keep tabs on their minds, let alone look further. You may soon be on your own.
“I’ve seen the map to the hangar,” Maukeen assured her briskly, and with some concentration, Ahsoka noted that they were already in a guardroom, the guards sedated, Finn working busily at the closest security deck. Beyond the guard room, stasis fields closed off a long channel of sterile white cubical cells, most of which contained humans. “The ‘droid’s in there,” Maukeen added. “But the rest seem to be… inconvenient prisoners, judging from what I picked out of their files.”
“Political prisoners,” Finn agreed. “Looks like there’s at least a couple of dozen of them. Do we get them all out? There’s probably a supply freighter in the hangar that can make light speed.”
Get them all out, Ahsoka decided. We’ll try and keep the frigate distracted for as long as we can. Head for the Dagobah system if you can - we’ll regroup there and contact Fiolla for more ship codes. But watch your back with them, I can’t take my measure of them this far away.
“Got it,” Rey sounded nervous. “Good luck.”
“Don’t worry about her, she’s with the best pilot in the Resistance,” Finn said, though it felt like forced cheer: he was just as nervous, and Ahsoka could feel it, thrumming at the surface of his mind.
The prisoners were mostly bewildered to be let go, though they helped the less mobile of their members onto trolleys at Maukeen’s curt direction, but before Ahsoka could concentrate and get one of them to look closely at the ‘droid, her mind seemed jarred away, and she realized in a moment of nausea and disorientation that she’d fallen heavily against the hull.
“-all right there?” Poe asked anxiously through the comms, as Ahsoka gasped and tried to swallow bile. “Got hit. Shields held.” BB-8 whistled its alarm.
“I’m fine,” Ahsoka grit out, rubbing at her temple. She curled up on the deck instead, deciding to forgo dignity for now, and closed her eyes again. “How are you holding up?”
“Got the transport, but now I’ve got TIEs on my tail. Playing hide and seek with them around the asteroid. The quad cannon’s autotargeting isn’t the best, but it’ll do. BB-8’s trying to help, but ‘droids aren’t really programmed for this.”
“We’re going to have to keep it up. They’ve just freed the prisoners. They’ll be on their way to the hangars.” Ahsoka frowned, then she pushed herself unsteadily up to her feet. “I’ll be your gunner for a while. See if we can’t get rid of some of those TIEs.” They had to stop any other transports from landing, at the least.
The gunner cradle was disorientingly free-wheeling, a full-circle cradle that could turn the quad cannon in any direction. For a moment, nausea threatened to swamp Ahsoka, but she forced herself to breathe deep, to bring her mind into focus, and then she studied the controls, dispassionate again. X and Y axis controls, acceleration stirrups, firing triggers fitting under her thumbs. The targeting system was radar overlaid by a visual feed: disengaging the targeting computer, a crosshair and HUD painted itself over the feed, with bright red reticles tracking her targets. The first TIE had gotten too close. Ahsoka twitched her left hand a fraction, bringing the crosshair neatly into place, pulling the trigger, and the small starfighter disappeared abruptly into a burst of shrapnel and fire.
With vacuum all around her, all Ahsoka heard of that was the quiet beep from her deck, confirming the kill, but she ignored it, already tracking the next, angling to get it in her sights as Poe took the Shadow in a sharp dive that skimmed one of the steel domes. As the TIE fighter arched down to follow, she swung along, stitching a sharp line of cannon fire that caught the TIE fighter across one of its solar panels, igniting one of its reactors and sending it spinning wildly, smashing through one of the domes.
“Careful!” Poe snapped through the comms. “Finn and the rest are still in there!”
“Then let’s fight somewhere where the collateral damage won’t matter!”
“There’s no other cover except for that frigate!”
“The ventral cannons are under the ship,” Ahsoka growled, “And if you close fast enough on the quad cannons up top we can take them out.”
“Maybe after you take out our TIE escort,” Poe conceded, lifting the nose of the Shadow out of its skim, speeding clear of the asteroid, abruptly cutting into a wild loop, winging belly up to bring the missile banks in line with another TIE fighter, blasting it to fragments, arcing around the debris, surging for the next, blowing it into a cloud of fire. Poe whooped over the comms, and Ahsoka laughed, startled.
“I see why they call you the best pilot in the Resistance.”
“This little lady’s pulling her weight,” Poe said, a little modestly. “Their system targeting’s not locking on to us and I’m trying to keep us out of a manual lock-“ A tremor rocked the ship, and Poe swore. “Son of a…! Don’t touch my ship, asshole. Shields at fifty-”
Thankfully, after they destroyed three more TIEs, the rest backed off, burning back to the frigate. “Think they’re going to call in reinforcements, maybe,” Poe suggested worriedly, as they hid back in the shadow of the asteroid. “Better check on the rest. See how they’re going. I’ll handle it from here.”
“How’s the ship?”
“Nothing too broken. Cargo’s in vacuum - one of the TIEs got lucky, but the shot went clean through, and the emergency air seals kicked in.”
“Good work.” Ahsoka clambered hurriedly out of the gunner’s cradle.
It took Ahsoka some time to find the others - she picked up on Rey first, on a small uptick of Force-use from Rey, knocking a pair of stormtroopers into a wall. A pair of prisoners picked up the stormtroopers’ rifles, even as Maukeen spliced the door, unlocking it. They were at the hangar now, finally, exchanging fire with hangar bay security, crabbing towards a freighter. Rey was still shaky with her blaster, but Maukeen and Finn made up for it, briskly picking off the handful of stormtroopers who had tried to dig in behind a low wall of supply crates. Dimly, through Rey’s ears, Ahsoka could make out the loud grinding din of the station’s klaxon alarm.
Something… something dangerous was coming. Down the corridor towards the hangar, minds steeped thickly with murder, hot enough with bloodlust that even Ahsoka could feel it, tentative as her presence was. Ahsoka touched Maukeen’s mind in alarm, even as Rey headed over to the harbour controls, starting to override the onboard lockdown of the freighter as Finn hustled the prisoners closer to the landing ramp. Maukeen snorted, and snapped, “Stay here,” heading back towards the blast doors - just as two black robed people turned the corner, one tall, armed with a vibrocleaver, one slighter in build with a staff in a hand, both masked in jet-dark metal. Ahsoka felt/heard Rey suck in a tight, horrified breath, even as Finn gasped, “It’s the Knights of Ren!”
“Vonoris twins,” Maukeen growled, to herself, and turned, tossing the data chip to Finn.
“Lady Tano,” Maukeen said formally, as she stepped out of the hangar, and slapped a paw-hand against the door controls, locking the blast door behind her, “It’s been an honour to serve you.”
Maukeen! Her mind was a silver fish, and it was being pushed aside, as Maukeen slid into a predatory, smooth hunter’s calm, a Trianii Ranger’s discipline against the Force-sensitive. Ahsoka was being shut out. Wildly, Ahsoka found herself tipped onto Finn’s mind instead, the next closest, and he was trying to override the door controls from the other side, cursing under his breath.
“Almost… there!” Rey exhaled tightly as the landing ramp disengaged, the airlock cycling. As the prisoners started to move aboard, Rey added urgently, “Finn… can we get through? We have to help her!”
“She’s locked it from that side… go get the ship warmed up,” Finn said tensely. “I’ll keep trying.”
Rey hesitated, indecisively, and then bit her lip and darted up the ship. Moments later, the onboard systems roared to life, the sublight drive starting to hum, and Rey squeezed past the cargo hold of prisoners, scrambling back down the ramp, and- Ahsoka felt it, pain, helpless shock, a prayer-
MOVE BACK FROM THE DOOR, Ahsoka projected as firmly as she could into Finn’s mind, and he backpedaled so quickly that he nearly tripped on himself. Dimly, Ahsoka was aware that her face was wet, that she was breathing in gasping sobs, that Poe was saying something over the comms, anxious and concerned. Get on the ship, the both of you!
The hangar doors opened with a pneumatic hiss. One of the black-robed Knights was down, the slighter one, pinned still and unmoving under Maukeen’s body, the Trianii Ranger’s head nearly severed all the way at the neck from some brutal blow, blood dark and slick across the white tiles. The bigger Knight, though mauled down one arm, was still walking, his tread grim, belligerent. Around one wrist was wound part of Maukeen’s tail, bloodied, and he was laughing, laughing-
The surge in the Force nearly tipped Ahsoka all the way back to herself, and she was dizzy again, groping to stay close, to watch with Finn, anchored to his shock: Rey’s cry turned from despair into a roar of absolute rage, and even as Ahsoka tried to warn her, calm her, she raised her hands, back arched, teeth bared. It was raw Force that Rey channeled outward, the way Ahsoka had seen but once before, so very long ago, by Yoda himself, that burned and crackled in the air like lightning, earthing itself in the Knight. Then he was screaming as well, falling on one knee, then writhing on the floor, convulsing, Rey’s fury twisting into a certain savage glee, the touch of the Dark side, coming so close, its poison-
There was a single shot, and the Knight was dead. Finn dropped his rifle onto the hangar deck even as Rey jerked, blinking, energy spitting and hissing still at her fingertips. Unafraid, Finn walked right up to her, pulling her fiercely close, tucking her head under his chin, hugging her tight. Rey twisted in his arms, snarling, blinking dumbly, and then she took in a long, shaky breath, and turned her face into his shoulder, great shuddering sobs welling out of her, helpless.
Finn patted her back, even as Ahsoka began to relax. “That’s all right,” Finn whispered. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. You’re all right. Let’s get out of here.”
Ahsoka pulled away, still blinking away tears, just in time to catch Poe’s “-re they all right? Something just happened. The TIE fighters are withdrawing inside the frigate. Think we just caught a lucky break.”
Lucky wasn’t how Ahsoka would put it. “Rey and the others will be jumping to light speed soon,” Ahsoka said, and rubbed her eyes, swallowing her grief, forcing calm. “Once they do, head for the Dagobah system.”
Ben let out a harsh, metallic laugh. “Are you offering to be her champion, Mand’alor?” he asked mockingly.
“Not in the least,” Krieger said urbanely, as Leia’s heart sank. “As far as I’m concerned, my job’s done.”
“Didn’t you just offer me an army a few minutes ago?” Leia shot back, trying not to stare at the crackling, hissing lightsaber.
“When I was under the impression that you were part of the First Order, certainly.” There was a strange edge of amusement in Krieger’s voice: it was tight with something. Anticipation, maybe. Curiosity. “I was told that General Organa has never needed others to fight her battles. But there’s no honour in cutting down an unarmed opponent.”
“Honour,” Ben spat out. “I don’t bare my ‘saber for primitive notions of battle.”
“Just for murder, I see,” Krieger noted, sardonic now. “Very impressive. What are you afraid of, kid? Scared of your mother, after all?”
“Enough. Knight Karnaxx,” Snoke cut in quietly. “Present General Organa with your vibroblade.”
Silently, the black-masked man by the large throne room door strode over, his boots ringing on the gray slate, and he drew the vibroblade longsword at his hip, handing it over to Leia hilt-first, with an ironic flourish. She accepted it with a sharp smile and an ironic bow of her own, hiding her fear. The blade was well-balanced, if a touch too heavy for her, but still-
Ben stiffened in surprise as Leia spun the blade in a tight cradle of steel before her, awkwardly at first, then with more confidence. The weaponsmaster that her mother had sought for her, decades - so many decades ago - had been right, after all. It was like learning a landspeeder. The body always remembered. She brought the blade up into a guard position, and set her feet as she had been taught: decades - so many decades ago. Before all this grief and regret. It seemed strange that some of her most joyous memories of her youth were now all that would stand between her and her death.
“You’re full of surprises, Princess,” Krieger said, chuckling.
“That’s General to you,” Leia snapped. “What’s the matter, Ben, surprised? Growing up in the palace in Alderaan I learned literature and history, statecraft and philosophy… but I also learned how to shoot a blaster. How to use a vibroblade.”
Ben snarled a curse and came at her, with a high arcing blow. Leia spun, a little clumsily, parrying, careful not to take the brunt of the weight of the blow, turning the force of it aside, instead, trying not to flinch as the ‘saber hissed and sparked against the vibroblade’s weave. She wished for one insane moment that she hadn’t given her own blade to Finn, but it would’ve been confiscated after her capture anyway. She spun again, to whet the weight of Ben’s upswing against her blade, then twisted, parrying a lunge, watching her footwork. Objectively, she knew that she would tire quickly, if only because this blade was too heavy for her; Leia knew that one mistake could be her end, given how lethal lightsabers were.
The ‘saber spat sparks at her, hissed its impotent rage as each of its wild swings met parry after parry, and Leia - despite everything, Leia was beginning to enjoy this. She remembered this, this beatific delicious calm, one of the few great joys of a childhood bent under the weight of her parents’ expectations. She let Ben push her in tight circuits over the slate floor, and even as he snarled at her through the monstrous warp of his helmet, growing more and more frustrated, Leia remembered instead dancing with the weaponsmaster, back and forth over the courtyard of the palace, giving no quarter. Life had been so much simpler.
And then Leia was calm again, her rage and sense of hurt betrayal fully behind her. “Ben,” Leia urged. “Listen to me. We don’t have to fight.”
“I’m going to kill you,” Ben hissed in return. “Just as I killed Han.”
“This doesn’t have to end in more bloodshed. I know you’re in pain, Ben, I can hear it. Haven’t you realized? You feel pain because of your conscience. This - this isn’t who you are and you know it. That’s what’s been tearing you up inside.”
“This will end in bloodshed,” Ben growled, pressing the attack, driving her back, “Yours.” He feinted, and she brought her parry up too slowly: the tip of his lightsaber glanced high against her thigh, making her cry out in startled pain, scrambling back. Chancing a look down, Leia saw the blackened bar that the lightsaber had writ over her breeches, smelled the charred stench of her burned flesh.
Ben laughed at her shock, ghoulish and metallic, circling slowly as Leia gulped her agony down, heartsick all over again. Where had it all gone wrong? It seemed only yesterday that she had held a swaddled warm weight in her arms, exhausted, smiling at Han, at their son. She would have given the world, her life for either of them then. Now Han was gone and this was all that was left of their child. Grief was too shallow a word for the entirety of Leia’s sorrow.
This time she didn’t just defend. As Ben attacked again, in another one of his wild swinging swipes, Leia turned the blow aside, pivoting, and drove her blade at his ribs. Dimly, she could hear Krieger suck in a sharp gasp, a million miles away, but Leia turned her blade, at the last moment, fetched Ben a gash over his flank instead, tearing his robes. He stumbled back, slapping a hand over the wound, spitting out a curse as his gloves came away wet.
“You’ll regret wasting that chance,” Ben predicted, circling her again.
“I don’t want to fight you,” Leia said tiredly. “I’ve loved you all of your life.”
“Even now?” Ben taunted, twirling the ‘saber in his grip, spinning a hungry, menacing flourish of sparks.
“I’ll always love you.” That was a mother’s burden - and Leia was making her peace with it, finally. She mourned the child she had brought into the world, the boy she had cherished, even the man whom he had become. Leia had never believed in turning tail and running from her mistakes. She was too stubborn for that, too prideful to do anything but look her regrets straight in the eye. As she did now.
And so Leia met Ben, blade for blade, as he came at her again with a roar, vibroblade glancing sparks off his ‘saber, hissing as his crossguard dug a gouge against her arm, catching another gash close to Ben’s elbow. Now they were bloodying each other, and Leia was slowing down: tired, she was so tired. Leia slipped once, on the slate, catching herself on a flailing palm with a jarring weight that made her cry out with pain, but she rolled quickly out of the way as Ben’s ‘saber gashed a molten line on the slate. But her fear was gone, and so was her anger. At the end of it all, despite all her pain, Leia was calm.
“Ben,” Leia gasped, as their blades locked, the spitting, crackling edge of the ‘saber inches away from her face. “I’m older than you… but I also had a better teacher than you. Stop this.”
“You’re tiring fast, mother,” Ben shot back instead, growling. “And my name is Kylo.”
“I can’t kill you,” Leia confessed. “I know I can’t… you’re my son.”
“I know,” Ben grated out, and Leia could hear the sneer in his voice. “You’re weak. While I am not poisoned by sentiment.”
“You were poisoned by something worse,” Leia whispered, as the blade came closer yet. “And I wasn’t there to save you from it. For that I am sorry. But for the rest… you dug your own grave a long time ago, Ben. And I can’t save you from that. I know that now.”
She looked past Ben’s shoulder, towards the tuk’ata, for now she understood what Luke’s test had been. Luke had known all along that Leia would never have been able to mete the killing blow. The moment she met its eyes, the creature’s jaws yawned wide, the muzzle - fake after all - stripping away from pre-loosened clasps, and it lunged, silent, quick as a viper. Three rows of teeth snapped shut over Ben’s helmet and twisted sharply, breaking his neck.
Leia staggered back, fighting bile, as the tuk’ata growled, hunched over the twitching body of its prey, worrying at the corpse. She took in a shaky breath, then another, and forced General Organa to the fore, and Leia the mother away. She could grieve all over again later. Instead, Leia limped over to the crouched frame of the Sith hound, and pressed her palm to its shoulder. It dropped Ben’s - Kylo’s - body, hissing in triumph.
“You-“ Karnaxx breathed in, incredulous, even as the tuk’ata growled warningly, and then he froze. Leia turned, just in time to see Krieger draw and cock his blaster, aiming it at Snoke’s head.
“Stop,” Leia said, her voice cracking like a whip, and shakily, she turned to Snoke, whose blue eyes were slightly widened, his long fingers in his lap. “So. Is your decision made?”
Snoke stared at her, for a long moment, then finally he said, “You are indeed full of surprises. General Organa.”
“Seems to me like it’d be easier if I just took his head off,” Krieger agreed, and now the grin he levelled at Leia was savage. The Mand’alor and his people were hers now, hell take the consequences - she knew that if she wanted to, she could command Krieger to fight their way out of here; he would die if he had to, to get her offworld.
“Because killing the people in charge, gutting an economy and leaving a system of worlds without a viable government absolutely works for galactic peace in the long run,” Leia shot back sardonically. “Rather than breeding a new generation of fanatics.”
Krieger shrugged, though he reluctantly lowered his pistol. “Lots of people died on Hosnian Prime. Some of them were my people.”
“And more death would bring them back?”
“Some would call it justice.”
“I’d call it frontier justice, which usually isn’t good politics.” Leia dropped the vibroblade, wiped a hand over her face, shakily, then steadied herself again, glancing at Snoke. “Is it, ‘Supreme Leader’?”
“I stole your son from you,” Snoke said softly, narrowing his eyes. “And you will let me live?”
“You stole my son from me, and for that I will never forgive you. But politics for me has never been personal.” Leia said coldly. “Stand your men down.”
“I still have the greater Navy, General Organa,” Snoke retorted calmly. “The New Republic has been pushed into retreat. Once they are overwhelmed, the fleet will return here. Where will your friends be, then?” He leaned forward, steepling his fingers again. “Stalemate.”
“Ah,” Krieger checked something on his hand terminal, then he smirked. “About that.”
He set the ship on autopilot the moment they made light speed, with some reluctance. The data chip had been uploaded, the signal boosted via the medical frigate-class ship, and Fiolla had assured them that her best agents would get through the encryption by the time they were back in normal space. Heading out of the cockpit, Poe found Finn sitting by himself at the sabacc table, quietly disassembling and cleaning his blaster rifle. Finn glanced up at Poe’s approach, his expression sober.
“Rey and Tano are over in the training room.”
“How’re you holding up?” Poe sat down beside Finn, and let Finn pull him closer. Finn kissed him, by way of an answer, slow and gentle; they kissed with the unhurried graceless languor of lovers on a slow afternoon, rather than two people jumping headlong into yet another frontline skirmish.
“I’m all right,” Finn said quietly. “Rey isn’t. She really looked up to Maukeen. But that’s not really why… Maukeen died trying to buy us time. Against two of the Knights of Ren. Not that it really worked. But when Rey saw that she’d died… that one of the Knights who’d killed her had taken a trophy? Man. I’ve never seen anything like that. She shot lightning at him. Would’ve killed him, too.”
“Lightning?” Poe blinked. He’d heard the stories, of course. But… “Isn’t that… a Dark side ability…”
Finn shuddered. “That’s why I killed the Knight myself. Calmed her down, brought her back. The Force isn’t meant to be used like that, I think. Stands to reason,” he added defensively, as Poe stared at him. “The stories I heard were all about how only the Sith Lords could make lightning. Wasn’t something that the Jedi could do. Or maybe - it’s not something that they should do.”
“And you were right.” Tano was walking quietly out of the training room. “Rey’s asleep,” she added. “In the meditation chamber. She just needs some quiet inside her head for a while.” Tano looked bone-weary herself, her reddish skin pale with grief. “The Force isn’t meant to be used to kill. Not directly.”
“I’m sorry about Maukeen,” Poe offered gently, and Tano nodded at him, tired, before turning back to Finn.
“Rey slipped briefly into the Dark,” Tano said quietly. “But you brought her back.”
“She’d have made it back herself,” Finn said quickly. “She was just… the circumstances-“
“You don’t need to defend her,” Tano cut in, if gentler now. “I saw it too. And I’ve told her. If Rey still wants a Master, this time I will take her on. She’s done more than enough. And I think I’m beginning to understand Luke Skywalker’s motives.”
“Really?” Poe asked, curious. “You’ve seen a… a vision too? The same vision?”
“No,” Tano flashed Poe a brief smile. “But I-“
She was interrupted by a shuffling sound, and Poe turned to see a familiar figure amble out of the training room. Incarceration hadn’t seemed to have changed C3PO very much at all: the golden ‘droid even still had its red arm. “I am pleased to report that Master Rey is fast asleep,” C3PO said proudly. “And I must say, it is such a pleasure to be out of that dreadful little cell. Hello again, Master Dameron, and Master Finn.”
Tano’s smile was warmer this time, as she turned to C3PO. “Hi, Threepio. Guess it’s been one too many wipes since we’ve met. I’m Snips.”
“Master Snips,” C3PO agreed brightly. “I see that I have all of you to thank for my rescue… and BB-8 too,” he added, as he heard BB-8’s faint beeping from the cockpit.
“What I don’t get is why they went to all the trouble of imprisoning a ‘droid,” Finn noted.
“Excuse me,” C3PO objected. “I happen to have a highly advanced linguistics upgrade, among other valuable matrices.”
“Protocol ‘droids are programmed to be very helpful,” Tano said dryly. “Threepio probably told anyone and everyone all that it knew. About anything it might’ve heard from the other prisoners, as well.”
“You say that like being helpful is a bad thing, Master Snips,” C3PO said reproachfully.
“But most likely, Kylo Ren put Threepio in there out of sentiment. After all, his grandfather made this.” Tano patted C3PO’s golden shoulder playfully.
“Vader made…?” Poe blinked at the protocol ‘droid. Death stars and other doomsday weapons, sure. But this bumbling, too-helpful ‘droid?
“Anakin Skywalker did,” Tano corrected soberly. “My Master. For a time.”
“Your…!” Finn gasped.
“It was a long time ago. Before he turned away from everything that was decent in his world, out of fear.” Tano patted C3PO’s shoulder again, wryly. “And now I feel older than I should. I’m going to bed. Try not to get shot up again when we’re out.”
“Why do you ask people to call you ‘Snips’?” Poe asked, as Tano turned to go. “Does it even work?” It felt strange to call a Jedi - even an ex-Jedi - by a nickname so irreverent.
“Usually, no,” Tano agreed, and there was a brief flare of melancholy in her sober face before she turned away from them. “It’s just a reminder of another life.”
C3PO excused itself, shuffling over to the cockpit’s astromech slot to talk to BB-8, and Poe curled against Finn’s solid warmth, closing his eyes. Fingers squeezed Poe’s hip, then petted his thigh, stroking absently, up and down. I’m glad that you’re here, Poe nearly said, but then there was no point; in the shared cradle of their mingling breaths, they needed no words.
The warning beep from the autopilot telling Poe that they were about to drop out of hyperspace came too soon. Poe got reluctantly to his feet, and grinned as Finn tugged him down, to kiss him hard on the mouth. “I probably do need a gunner for this,” Poe told him, breathless, and Finn grinned at him, and kissed Poe again instead of answering. Back in the cockpit, Poe had just strapped himself down when he got a comm ping from Fiolla.
Poe routed it through. “Auditor-General.”
“Dameron, that datachip was invaluable.” Fiolla’s voice was tight with excitement. “It didn’t just have ship codes. It had missile codes. For the ventral cannons of the Finalizer.”
“Oh, hell yes,” Poe could hear Finn whoop over the comms, as well as a startled laugh from Tano.
“Does that mean what I think it means?” Poe asked, grinning savagely, leaning forward in his pilot’s cradle. They were almost out of hyperspace.
“Mean what?” Rey asked, sounding sleepy and puzzled. “What’s going on?”
They dropped out of hyperspace, neatly into position behind a Hart and Parn corvette, flanking the New Republic fleet and Lando Calrissian’s frigate. A pitched battle was still taking place, Poe banking the Rogue Shadow hastily to avoid cannon fire, even as the frigate’s quad cannons took out the TIE fighter that had shot at him. The TIEs were fighting a desperate battle: in the centre of the great armada of First Order ships beyond, the Finalizer was burning, great holes blown into its hull from redirected ventral cannon fire. As Poe watched, awed yet again by the size of the star destroyer, even from this distance, the fire spread, and eventually no doubt caught its reactor: the vast ship exploded, the force and radius of the blast swallowing hapless smaller ships in its wake.
“Wow,” Finn breathed. “Everyone see that?”
Poe accepted an incoming comm request. It was Calrissian, fierce laughter in his voice. “Damn. That you over there, Dameron? Tano with you?”
“Not dead yet, Calrissian?” Tano spoke up.
“I see we almost missed all the fun,” Poe stared at the wreck of the star destroyer for a moment more, a little dazed, even, but the devastation, before his training took over. “Awaiting orders, General.”
“Admiral I’ra over in the New Republic’s Intrepid thinks that the First Order’s got to surrender any time now,” Calrissian reported. “But until then, get these TIEs off my ass.”
“Copy that, sir,” Poe drawled, even as he heard Finn laugh. The universe still needed a little more saving after all.
click on to the next chapter!
The new Master of the Knights of Ren hadn’t bothered with black robes. She wore a sober gray dress over high charcoal boots, her hair still coiled tightly behind her skull. As she stood beneath the spreading boughs of the tree, Leia seemed… diminished, somehow. Paler. She was leaning against Luke, whose arm was around her shoulders. Chewie was further back, with R2 and the Mand’alor, and, surprisingly, there was one other at the wake, a tall, ginger-haired young man in the severe black uniform of a First Order General, who had nodded stiffly to them all and hadn’t bothered to introduce himself.
Han ambled over, and the young man stared at him, openly unfriendly. “Solo.”
“What’s your name then, kid?”
“You uh, were a friend of…?”
Thrown, Han blinked owlishly. “Well uh, thanks for… coming?”
Hux eyed Han with some surprise. “Didn’t Kylo try to kill you?”
“Well,” Han said quietly, “I’m still here, ain’t I, while he’s in the ground.” Han still wasn’t sure what he felt about that. Grief? He didn’t seem to feel the pain that was writ so clearly into Leia: under her stern General’s mask, Han could see her grief - a mother’s consuming anguish at the loss of a child. Han… hell, it was true. Han had never been much of a father.
“So he is,” Hux said soberly, his lip curling sharply for a moment. He strode over to Leia, who glanced up at him. Just as stiffly as before, Hux murmured something to her, then he saluted with robotic precision, and marched off. Once he was out of sight, Chewie made a little growl that made Krieger smirk and Han shake his head slowly. Stick up his ass indeed.
Instead of making a quip, Han sidled back over to Leia. She was red-eyed, staring at the freshly packed dirt. Over her shoulder, Luke glanced at Han, his expression carefully blank. Technically, as Public Enemy Number One in the First Order, allowing Luke to set foot on Coriolis was a bit of an awkward exercise in public relations. In reality, after Snoke’s private unconditional surrender to Leia following the destruction of his flagship and the crippling of his fleet, it was a gesture of goodwill. Diplomacy by symbolism. Han hated it all.
“So what now?” Han asked gruffly, wishing that he didn’t feel like he was intruding on his own son’s funeral.
“Now?” Leia echoed, pulling away from Luke. She hugged Han, briefly, like a friend seeking comfort, an embattled ally. It’d been so long since they were more to each other, and as Leia stepped back, her smile wan, Han knew those days were over as well. What they’d had between them hadn’t survived what their son had become. “I’m glad you made it, Han.”
“You’ve said that… three times now.” Flippancy made it easier to hear.
“But you’re leaving again?”
“Well, you know me,” Han said, unable to keep the unease out of his tone. “Big military cultist temples, not really my thing. But if you want to hitch a ride out, sure, the Falcon’s got room, and Chewie missed you.”
“Thanks, but no,” Leia said wryly, as Han knew she would. “Snoke’s remaining as a figurehead for a while, but I think I’m going to have my hands full coordinating a reconciliation with what’s left of the New Republic and negotiating mutual disarmament.”
“Good luck with that,” Han said dubiously. “I mean. You’re going to be alone here. Or are you staying?” he asked Luke.
“Only for a short time.” R2 whistled from behind him, and Luke chuckled softly. “Yes, R2. It will be short. Leia doesn’t really need my help, and my presence is probably only going to complicate things. Most of the First Order’s citizens were brought up believing that I caused the fall of the Empire, after all.”
“Yeah, like you did anything but hog the credit,” Han teased, though he didn’t manage much humour. Death and loss still sat soberly on Leia’s shoulders.
“Where are you going after this?” Leia asked Luke. “Wasn’t Rey with you?”
“She has another teacher now. You’ll meet them both soon, when Lando comes to the peace talks with Admiral I’ra.”
“Lando!” Leia’s smile was a little warmer. “I’ll look forward to that, then. Will you be there?”
“I’ll attend the talks.” Luke nodded.
“And after that?” Leia asked.
“I haven’t decided,” Luke conceded, honestly. “But I don’t think that I’m up for starting another school. I might check on a few old friends. But after… the First Jedi didn’t just leave that one Temple out in Wild Space. And seeing the Temple, it’s made me curious about where they might have gone.”
“You’re going to sit on another rock for twenty years?” Han asked, skeptical. This got him an identical grin from both the twins.
“No, Han,” Luke said dryly.
“He’d better not,” Leia quipped, at the same time.
“The futures I saw worked better the less I meddled in them,” Luke added. “It’s up to you, Leia. The end to the cycle of war - it’s in your hands.”
“No pressure, huh,” Han raised his eyebrows. Chewie let out a growl, and the tuk’ata hissed, as though in agreement.
“I like a challenge.” Leia stared for a moment more, at the freshly packed dirt. Then she rubbed her eyes, jerkily, and turned away. “Back to work. Krieger, go and dig up the Knights.”
“Another show of force?” Krieger looked a little pleased about that.
“The ambassador from Coruscant should be arriving any time now, and I’ve never trusted him.”
Together under the tree, Han watched them go, the tuk’ata on their heels. R2 trundled over, beeping softly, and Luke patted the ‘droid on its head. “Don’t worry, R2. She’ll do fine. Mostly.”
“So it all turns out all right now?” Han asked. “It was all worth it?”
“Nothing’s ‘worth’ a war… particularly not on the scale of what we’ve seen, twice over,” Luke corrected. “But I’ve done as much as I can to steer matters in the right direction. My work is done. Hers is just beginning.”
“That’s disappointing. I was kinda hoping for a ‘Yes, Han, everything is gonna be peaceful and happy now. The End.’”
“Happy endings are just endings that haven’t gone on for long enough,” Luke quipped, and smirked as Han rolled his eyes.
“That’s politics for you,” Poe told Finn confidently. “It’ll probably go on for a week.”
“Or longer. Possibly longer.” Poe had overheard Ahsoka complaining to Rey about the interim new Senate wanting to send representatives. “Takodana’s not that bad.”
“I guess. And I’m glad that the General’s all right.”
Poe wasn’t so sure about that. Leia Organa was a living legend - probably more so now that she’d apparently defeated Kylo Ren in single combat… but now she was Master of the Knights? Second in command to Snoke? What was that about? “She seems to be.”
“You think she’s working for Snoke?” Finn grinned at him. “Whoah. You are.”
“I can’t say the situation looks good, since she’s negotiating on behalf of the First Order.”
“And you think Snoke would negotiate if he was still calling the shots?”
“We did destroy his Navy.”
“Just part of it. And we had our own losses. If the First Order wanted to, they could’ve just pulled the Navy back. Moved the capital to another world out in Unknown Space. Rebuilt and come back in five years, ten, with more ships. More war. That’s what Snoke would’ve done, if he had a say.”
“I guess we’ll just have to see.” Poe was glad that he wasn’t the one who’d have to make that judgement call.
“What’s next?” Finn asked then, playfully. “For the best pilot in the Resistance?”
“There’s always something to be done. I don’t think I’ll be retiring anytime soon. Me, or my gunner.” Poe kissed Finn’s jaw, then grinned as Finn leaned down for a proper kiss, one to make Poe’s heart beat faster, one to make his blood simmer. They stumbled back to the ship, distracted by each other, with the sweet intoxication of new lovers, and as such, nearly stumbled right on top of Rey.
“Sorry! Sorry!” Rey skipped out of the way as Poe and Finn disentangled. “I just wanted to show Chewie some of the fruit from the stores!” Behind her, Chewbacca nodded heavily and let out a grunt, toting a small crate under one hairy arm. Rey was bright red with embarrassment, a roll of cloth under one arm and another small crate under the other, staring at her feet, and Poe grinned, even as Finn sighed.
“Aren’t you meant to be at the talks? Being a Jedi and all?”
“I’m just a padawan.” Rey fingered the braid in her hair proudly, though. “So Ahsoka said I didn’t have to be there. I was going to have a picnic instead and catch up with Chewie and BB-8,” she said, apologetic again, even as the ‘droid in question peeked out from behind Chewie, then trundled over happily to Poe. “And uh, Han said he’d come along soon. Update us on what they’ve been up to.”
So much for getting some privacy. “Want some more company?” Poe asked wryly. “I’ll go get the rest of the stores.” There was only one more crate of perishables. And proper, non-replicator alcohol. “Finn, why don’t you go help them get set up?”
Finn eyed him curiously, but said, “Sure,” and took the roll from Rey. Poe watched them head back towards the shoreline, then he smiled to himself as BB-8 whistled at him.
“No, I’m not. Having a party’s good. Catching up. Go find R2 and Threepio. They’ll only be getting underfoot in the talks.” BB-8 beeped again, but rolled away quickly, making a bee-line through the trees.
Alone, Poe walked back to the ship. He unlocked it remotely, and strolled up the ramp, fingers hooked into his belt, breathing in the recycled air a little greedily. That would always be the smell of home to him - the air aboard a ship. He had been meaning to head towards the cargo, but found himself in the cockpit instead, a hand pressed over the pilot’s cradle, looking out from the transparisteel over the raised clearing that overlooked the lake. He blinked slowly, disoriented, then sighed out aloud.
Ahsoka had been right after all.
“Ship,” Poe said quietly, as he patted the back of the pilot’s seat. “You’d have scared the hell out of any normal, sane pilot with what you just pulled.” Hell, Poe knew that he should be scared. Whatever the Sith had done that had… infected the ship? Poe knew that objectively, a ship that could influence a pilot, like this - should be scrapped. With extreme prejudice.
Was it his ears, or did the background hum of the air recyclers just kick up a notch?
“I know you’re worried,” Poe added gently. “War’s over. And you haven’t had a pilot for a long time. You must’ve spent decades rotting away in some dark hangar, just gathering dust. You thought you’d just be a planetbound piece of junk then, yeah? Thought you’d never fly again.”
“Thing is,” Poe continued, as the hum softened, growing nearly inaudible, “That’s my worst nightmare too. Stuck planetside somewhere. Never flying again. As long as I’m able, I’ll always be chasing the stars. And I’ll always need a ship.” He patted the back of the chair again. “So if you want a pilot, I’ll always be there. But you’re going to have to trust me to take care of you. And I’ve got to be able to trust you not to mess with me. Or the crew.”
Poe waited, as the background hum kicked back up a notch, then it went quiescent again, to a normal purring range. He felt a little lighter, as though a pressing weight had just been lifted, leaving something warm and maybe even faintly apologetic behind. Poe turned, finally heading for the cargo hold. A part of him, the part that had flown and loved X-Wings for most of his career, thought that he was being crazy. This was a Sith ship, and one that seemed at the very least… haunted, somehow. But Poe knew that all the ship wanted - if it could be said to want anything - was to fly, and that was a sentiment that Poe could understand with all his heart.
They had always understood each other far more easily than they had understood anyone else, instinctively. Once, Leia had thought that it was love. She had been right… and wrong. Now Luke sat with her on an austere stone bench in a balcony that looked over a narrow gorge that a river had cut into stone, the water boiling in onrushing froth far below their feet. Behind them, the Temple rose in monoliths of prefab steel and stone, an ugly monument to new power. Somewhere beyond that was the Falcon, and far too many ghosts of her past.
“Do you have to?” Leia asked, but it was said wryly, not desperately. Luke squeezed her hand with his normal palm, his grip dry and warm, his eyes serious - always so solemn, now. Sometimes, in the silence of her soul, Leia wished the Jedi Order hadn’t taken away the Luke she had met, irrepressible, always quick with a smile, sweetly boyish - and replaced him with this calm, serious stranger.
“There’s no need for me to stay. I’ve lingered long enough as it is.”
“So you did,” Leia agreed gently, and her smile widened, knowingly. “Luke, there are some things in the galaxy that you can’t fix. Not even by seeing the future. I may have loved Han once, and he loved me. But that’s over, now. And it wasn’t your fault.”
“I…” Luke looked away, uncomfortable now, the first chink in his Jedi calm. “I still feel responsible.”
“Guilty, you mean.” Leia squeezed Luke’s hand back. “You think that I never saw it? The way you were around Han? You’re my twin.” Luke stared at her now, wide-eyed. “Please. What’s that again that Han likes to say? Women always figure it out.”
“He still chose you,” Luke pointed out. “And he did love you.”
“That was before. Some loves last a lifetime. Others…” Leia bit down on a sigh. “What happened with Ben… but even before that,” she said quietly. “It wasn’t going to work. We fought almost all the time. When we weren’t fighting, usually it was because we were apart. It wasn’t healthy. Not for us. Not for Ben.”
“So if you have to go… go. With Han. And Chewie.” Leia hugged Luke this time, pulling him close. “I’ll be here. Taking care of things. Again.” She tried a little humour, though it sounded flat to her ears. Her eyes were beginning to sting, even though Leia had told herself before that she wouldn’t cry, when this day inevitably came. Luke laughed anyway, noiselessly, shaking against her, hugging her back.
“Ever since leaving Tatooine for the first time… I’ve met amazing people from all over the galaxy. Grandmaster Yoda… Han and Chewie… Obi-Wan… everyone. But the one I’m glad of meeting the most - the one I’m most glad of leaving Tatooine for - is you.” Luke pulled away, and in his gentle smile there was something of the honest warmth of the boy Leia remembered. “Take care of yourself, Leia.”
“Was this where it was all meant to go? With me on Coriolis, the First Order bowed but not defeated… the New Republic still in disarray… Ahsoka Tano establishing some new Jedi Order, backed by her own armada?”
“This isn’t the end,” Luke corrected. “It’s a beginning. And believe me, it’s one of the better ones. As to where everyone goes from here? You’re going to decide that. Most of it. And I have no doubt that you’ll get there in the end.”
“You’ll know it when you see it.” Luke squeezed Leia’s hand, one last time, and got to his feet. She didn’t turn to watch him go, staring out over the gorge, instead, even as the tuk’ata nudged its huge muzzle over her knee, snorting loudly until Leia tickled it absently behind its first set of horns. She sat quietly, listening to the water, petting the hound until it began to doze.
The fledgling civilian arm of the First Order’s new government was due to hold its first meeting within the hour, its cabinet populated mostly by refugees and ex-political prisoners. Leia closed her eyes, marshalling her thoughts, then she rose from the bench, creakily, steadying herself against the tuk’ata’s massive shoulders. As she circled around the bench, she saw the Falcon dart past, far beyond, rising up in a steep, sweeping vertical into the sky, chasing the stars.
Further in the ruins somewhere, Rey giggled, followed by Chewbacca letting out a gruff rumbling laugh, Solo’s voice rising briefly in feigned outrage. Beside Ahsoka, Luke Skywalker smiled as he heard it, his grim face softening briefly.
“You could stay,” Ahsoka offered. “Build this new academy with me. Help me teach those who will come. I’m older than you are and probably not that much longer for the world.”
“You don’t want me to stay,” Luke corrected, though there was no judgment in this tone, only a blunt statement of fact.
Ahsoka swallowed her grimace. Talking to Luke had turned out to be even more… challenging than she had expected, even after what she had gleaned from Rey. Whatever Luke had done in the First Temple had changed him - or perhaps it was the effect of twenty years’ worth of solitude. To Luke, social niceties now seemed like a waste of time: he seemed but precariously rooted to the present.
“… but I appreciate the thought,” Luke added absently.
“No you don’t,” Ahsoka said dryly, and Luke flashed a faint smile at her before looking away, back at the ruins.
“I did like being a teacher. For a time. But I do still have more to do.”
“Finding the First Jedi?” Ahsoka asked sceptically. “Why is it so important, looking for some old bones?”
“I don’t know yet,” Luke admitted. “But it feels like it is. Besides. You don’t need me here.”
“Don’t I?” Ahsoka lowered her voice, though a quick look around told her that they were still alone. “Luke. About Rey. Her parents… do you know who they are?”
Luke stared at Ahsoka, his expression carefully blank, then he looked back over to the temple. “No.”
“You didn’t see it? When you looked into the… When you were at the First Temple?”
“No. I was looking at the future, not at the past.”
“But your lightsaber. It called to her. That’s what Maz tells me.”
Luke shrugged. “That wasn’t my lightsaber. Mine is here. The one I built, customised for my use.” he patted the ‘saber at his hip. “The one she has was Anakin’s lightsaber.”
Ahsoka pulled a face. She hadn’t really wanted to follow that train of thought very far. “I was Anakin’s padawan. He was… I know what he became. But don’t ever doubt… he loved your mother. Very much.”
“So I have been told.” Luke said dispassionately. “I don’t think blood is the reason why that ‘saber called to her, if that’s what you want to hear. And no, I don’t know who her parents are. Nor do I think that it matters.”
“Don’t you? She’s very strong in the Force, Luke. Stronger than me. Maybe even you.”
“I know that.” Luke offered her a wan smile. “But I also know that you’re the best equipped of the two of us to help her deal with it. And not just you. She has friends.”
“I don’t even know if what I’m doing now is the right thing. I walked away from the Order once. I still don’t fully agree with what it used to stand for.”
“Then don’t. Make a new Order. Do what you think is right.”
“And you? You’re really going to spend the rest of your life wandering? Out there?”
Luke didn’t answer her for a long time, until they walked along the lake ‘till the temple was out of sight. Then he spoke distantly, as though quoting something that he had seen - or perhaps something that he would someday see. “We’ve all lingered for so long on the shore. But at last, I am ready for the stars.”
They eventually stopped for a break on the outer stone wall, feet dangling out over the grass. A year had gone by, and Takodana’s beauty still took Rey’s breath away: the sun was just starting to sink lower in the sky, and the great lake beyond the castle had begun to dress itself in robes of orange and silver. Poe came over, leaning against the wall with his elbows beside Finn’s hips, Finn’s hand resting casually on Poe’s shoulder. “No bits got cut off?” Poe asked, grinning up at Finn.
“Did you win?”
“This isn’t about winning,” Finn said patiently, and shot Rey an exaggerated, Do-You-Believe-This eyeroll that made her laugh. “Finished up with Ahsoka?”
“Shiny new lightsaber crystal shipment all delivered - assuming they didn’t break anything offloading it from the Shadow.”
“Heard you ran into some pirates,” Rey said cautiously. “Is the ship all right?”
“You get the latest in Hart and Parn gossip, I bet. Nothing we couldn’t handle. Though we did have to limp over to one of their shipyards for a quick patch up.” Poe shuddered. “I’ve been stranded in Wild Space once from a hyperdrive crit malfunction. Never again.” Finn squeezed Poe’s shoulder lightly, as though in reassurance, and Poe absently patted his splayed hand. For a moment, Rey was a little envious of their easy intimacy, the way they seemed anchored in each other, like they were the centre of each other’s worlds.
“How long are you guys going to stay?” Rey asked instead.
“Not long. We’ve got some messages to carry over to the General in Coriolis,” Poe related. “And then we have to get her reply over to the Senate.” Leia was technically no longer a General, but to Poe, she would always be General Organa.
“What happened to using a comm link?”
“The messages are actually bribes,” Finn shrugged.
“It’s called diplomatic gifts, Finn,” Poe said, though he smirked.
“Whatever it is, they aren’t going to work. I told Lando and I’ra but they only laughed.”
“They know it’s not going to work,” Poe agreed. “But they also know that Leia knows. So if she accepts them anyway, it means one thing. If she throws it back in our faces, it means another thing.”
Rey and Finn puzzled this over for a while. Rey frowned. “What?”
“I hate politics,” Finn added feelingly.
“It’s a job. How’s your job?” Poe asked Rey. “That braid comes off eventually, right?”
“When I’m ready. A full Knight,” Rey elaborated, when Finn looked a little confused. “Ahsoka will decide. It’s only been a year.”
“And all these other kids?” Finn jerked a thumb behind them.
“They’re Initiates. Some of them brought their families… everyone’s been a great help, rebuilding.” Especially with the cooking. With families coming in from across the galaxy, Rey had been lucky enough to try Dantooine-styled roasts, Corellian stews… even Kashyyk-styled salads. And the people! She’d never lived with people like these, friendly people, from all over everywhere. Rey rather liked it.
“Brought their families… Ahsoka’s still experimenting with new rules, then.” Poe observed.
Rey nodded. “I don’t think she expected to actually get any more students so soon. But the word got out. Some of the families actually thought they’d get here and see Luke Skywalker,” she added wryly.
“Luke ever drop by again?” Finn asked.
“Only that one time. We do get other random visitors now and then, though. Just got a visit from a New Republic ambassador. He wanted Ahsoka to restore the Jedi Order to what it used to be, and so on, and serve the New Republic like it used to-“
“Really?” Poe laughed.
Rey grinned wickedly. “I know!”
“Oh man. I wish I was there.” Finn shook his head. “What did Ahsoka say?”
“That I wasn’t interested into becoming part of anyone’s private military ever again,” Ahsoka said dryly, behind them. “Dameron, Finn, Lando wants a word, I believe.”
“Uh, good to see you again, um, ma’am,” Finn said quickly, even as Poe threw Ahsoka a playful salute, but they soon hurried away, back towards the main school block.
Rey looked curiously at Ahsoka. “Is there something you need, Master?”
“No,” Ahsoka leaned creakily against the wall. She looked a little tired, but her smile was quick enough in her creased face. “You could go with them,” Ahsoka suggested. “Take a break. The school’s coming along nicely, and I have Maz and Lando. Go on a round trip to Coriolis and Eufornis.”
“A break?” Rey repeated, startled.
“You’ve been working hard for a year.”
“I’m happy here,” Rey tried, uncertain.
“I know that you are. But…” Ahsoka paused for a while, glancing out over the lake. “Maz told me. When you first encountered Luke’s lightsaber. It… reacted to you?”
“I saw visions.” Rey’s hand went briefly to the hilt of the blue lightsaber at her hip. “Heard voices. Talking to me.”
“May I?” Ahsoka held out her hand. Without hesitating, Rey unhooked the lightsaber from her belt, handing it over. Ahsoka turned it carefully over in her hands, frowning to herself, then she handed it back. “Nothing. It’s not for me, at least. Have you ever… thought about going out there? To find your family?”
“Not for a while.” Rey blinked. It would mean going back to Jakku, to talk to Plutt, this time with credits. It would mean the impossible. The galaxy was so large… it had been so long. “I’m happy here,” she repeated, more quietly. “And I’m fairly sure I’m not… not Luke’s daughter, or Leia’s long-lost daughter, or whatever you’re thinking,” she added defensively, because that would have been too easy. Too much like wish-fulfilment. To be a Skywalker! That would have been something.
But it wasn’t something that she needed. Or wanted. Not anymore.
“I don’t think you are,” Ahsoka said gently. “But it’s not a bad thing, to know where you come from.”
“I don’t know,” Rey said honestly. “Whoever my parents were, they clearly didn’t want me. They left me with Plutt.”
“It’s up to you. But if you go,” Ahsoka patted Rey’s palm, “There’ll always be a place for you back here.”
They kissed in the shower, and were still kissing as they stumbled out after, haphazardly clad - BB-8 made itself scarce as Poe and Finn ended up sprawled on the training mat, Finn pulling Poe on top of him, Poe’s hands drawing lazy circles over his hips, his thighs. Under his back, the ship’s engines purred in a constant low rumble as they kissed each other with the luxury of time, with the indulgence of privacy. It was going to take a few days in hyperspace to get to Lorrd, and right now it felt like all the time in the world.
Finn tried to roll them around, but Poe moaned deep in his throat, staying put, and then it became some sort of wrestling, tickling match, with Poe yelping and writhing and warm in his arms, impossible to pin down. They ended up with Poe fetched up against the hull, Finn between his legs, mouths hungry against each other, Poe’s against Finn’s shoulder, Finn’s teeth grazing Poe’s neck, the cadence of their breaths picking up, entwined with lust. Urgency made their fingers shaky on the clasps of their clothes, boots pulled and kicked off onto the mat behind them, Poe’s skin flushing nicely under Finn’s touch; Poe moaned and arched when Finn got his teeth on a nipple, then his tongue - laughed and kicked out playfully as Finn kissed down to his navel.
“Finn,” Poe gasped, as Finn settled himself on his elbows, deftly undoing buckles and zips, nosing against the bulge in Poe’s breeches, breathing in the heavy, musky scent. “Oh hell-“
Poe’s voice broke into a hoarse cry as Finn swallowed down, greedily taking as much thickening flesh as he could, weighing it on his tongue, getting it all sloppy and wet. He breathed heavily out through his nose and gripped Poe’s hips with his hands, whining deep in his throat as he tried to choke down another inch, then another, squeezing his eyes shut. Shaky fingers curled over Finn’s head, stroking reverently, palms hot and sticky as under him, against him, Poe trembled and dug his heels into the training mat and wailed as Finn hollowed his cheeks and hummed. This was always the fun part.
Not that it usually lasted. Whether it was Poe really, really liking having a mouth on his cock or having Finn between his legs, Finn wasn’t still too sure, but it never took long for Poe to start bucking carefully against him, then trembling, then finally he always ended up pushing desperately at Finn’s shoulders, moaning his name. Finn always ignored Poe at that point. He liked drinking it all down and licking up the rest, despite how it tasted - he loved how Poe always looked at the end of all that, awed and wrecked.
Finn loved how they kissed, after, so deeply, Poe chasing salt and bitter spend in Finn’s mouth, even as Finn rode Poe’s thigh slowly, his own cock still hard in his breeches, pressing moans and whispers against lips and fingertips. They had time, and Finn knew the steps to this dance now, though not all of them, not yet - but it didn’t matter. They’d spend today, tomorrow, and all the years to come learning the rest of it together.
“When Chewie and I told you not to move the fuckin’ campsite you weren’t listening, were you?”
“I was following the hieroglyphs downstream,” Luke said meekly. As Han rolled his eyes, Luke added, “You took a while.”
“Yeah, got sidetracked. Ran into those three kids over at Karn, of all people. Rey, Finn and Dameron. They were on some kind of Super Secret Mission for your sister. Naturally, it quickly went to hell.”
Luke sat back against the stone, listening to Han give a gruff account of a surprisingly unlikely misadventure involving Hutt gangsters, King Prana and a bantha, and smiled to himself. When Han finished, he eyed Luke suspiciously. “Something funny?”
Han let out a deep sigh. “Is this gonna happen every time Chewie and I head out for a supply run? R2, I told you to make sure Luke wouldn't fall right back into his hermit-on-a-rock habits.” R2 beeped indignantly and defensively, subsiding only when Luke patted its flank.
“Do you have news of Leia?”
“Her? She’s doing great. Y’know, she used to tell me, democracy’s a fuckin’ mess, but it’s the least fucked up of all the other forms of government.”
“Not in those words, I should think.”
“Nah.” Han grinned slyly at Luke, always with that infectious mischief of his, that time had failed again and again to wear down, and now, as before, it always made Luke’s heart beat a little faster. He looked away, suddenly reckless.
“Han. Remember when… on Hoth, when you saved me from freezing out on the snow?”
“How could I forget?” Han grunted. “That poor tauntaun-”
“When I woke up afterwards… in that bunk, and you and Chewie came by…”
Han wrinkled his nose. “I think the only thing I remember about that bit was your sister kissing you. On the mouth. Never gonna scrub that from the old memory banks, for sure.”
“We didn’t know about each other at the time, and she was trying to make a point.”
“Yeah, I know all that, and I married your sister, remember?”
“Yes. You did.” Luke said reflectively, the recklessness fading a slow death. He twisted his fingers together, and nearly flinched when Han leaned pointedly and heavily against him.
“So. Wanna tell me what this is about? Or is this gonna be some sort of long philosophical talk, because if it is, I’m going to go talk to Chewie instead.”
“No philosophy. Just regrets.”
“What,” Han said incredulously, “About finding out about Leia…?”
“No! Not that,” Luke said sharply, and realized he had been baited when Han let out a loud laugh: even R2 beeped, rocking briefly from side to side in amusement. “Nevermind.”
“Luke. We’re both old farts now. Me, older than most, even. If you don’t clear out the air, chances are, we might not have much more time for it. So. What’s the problem?”
“I’ve really… valued your friendship, all this time-“
“Ooh, this is going to be good.” Han straightened up, peering at him. “What did you do now?”
“Just that… for a moment there, when you came into that room to see me… while we were talking… I thought you were going to kiss me. It was just a thought,” Luke added, when Han blinked slowly and owlishly at him. “But then Leia burst in and… that was it, so. It was a stupid thought.”
“But one you’ve been thinking about all this while?”
“I used to be jealous of Leia,” Luke confessed. He couldn’t look up at Han. “Even though I was also… happy that the two of you… got married and… everything else. For a time.”
“It was always gonna be ‘for a time’,” Han said reflectively. “Leia’s great. One of the strongest, smartest people I’ve ever met. But she and I, we’ve never gotten along. The only reason the marriage lasted as long as it did was… we had Ben, and then…” He sighed, and leaned comfortably back against Luke again. “But you said you ‘used to be’.”
“Can’t be jealous any more,” Luke said wryly, a little breathlessly. “After all. You’re now here with me.”
Han was silent for a while, breathing in a slow, even cadence, tilting his chin up slightly, so that he was looking up at the stars. “Yeah,” he murmured, when the cooking fire had burned to embers, the fish forgotten on the spit, wreathed with smoke. “You’re stuck with me, kid. For whatever that’s worth.” Han turned his head, and Luke caught that sly and perfect smile again, in the corner of his eyes, framed against the dark and the endless skies.