Zahra Rivers sat in the pilot’s seat in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, trying to catch some sleep. Her feet were propped up on the console, crossed at the ankles, her head tilted back, spilling her long red-gold braid over the chair’s back. She had been attempting to sleep for several minutes with little success. Finally, she gave up. Snapping her eyes open, Zahra dropped her feet to the floor and sat up, rubbing at the crick in her neck.
Heaving a sigh that seemed to come up straight from her toes, Zahra leaned one elbow on the console in front of her and sat her chin in her hand. She glared at the viewport at what she saw there.
Well, that was a given, obviously. They were in space, after all.
It wasn’t the stars themselves, exactly, that bothered her. It was what they represented. The truth was, Zahra didn’t recognize a single one. The scans of the sector they had performed lent little information about their position. There had been no sign of sentient life, no technological signatures, absolutely nothing to tell them where in the universe they were.
Which could only mean one thing: they were lost.
Zahra’s glare turned melancholy as she silently, though thoroughly, berated herself. This was all her fault. Everything was her fault. It had been her that had set them on this course to begin with. If only…. Well, it didn’t matter now.
Zahra sighed again and decided to run another sensor sweep. If she could just find something, anything, to point them in the right direction, she’d feel better about the situation they were in. She adjusted the computer’s scanning parameters, increasing the distance searched. The Falcon was so old, the ship was being stretched to the limits of its capabilities, but R2-D2, who spent most of the days and nights hooked into the ship’s computer, would help to compensate.
As she waited for the results, she sensed the approach of her friend and fellow Jedi, Lowbacca. She said nothing as he entered and nothing when he sat in the co-pilot’s seat. The silence persisted until the computer beeped, signaling the scan was completed. They both leaned forward to look at the small screen on the center console that displayed the results.
“We’re approaching a star system,” Zahra reported. She scrolled through the screen. “One planet capable of supporting life… densely populated… strong technological advancement. Seems to have several orbital satellites. One moon. Blah, blah, blah.” She glanced at Lowie. “What do you think?” she asked.
Lowbacca contemplated the screen for a moment, then said, “We don’t have much of a choice. The dragon scales won’t hold forever. We need a more permanent fix.” He looked out at the stars. They were travelling at sub-light speeds, so that the stars almost appeared to be standing still as they passed them.
Lowbacca stood. “Set a course for this planet. But steer clear of the satellites. If they’re not a space-faring people, I would rather not draw their attention.”
“Got it,” Zahra said. She set the coordinates as Lowbacca left, probably to inform the droids of their destination. As she punched in the coordinates, Zahra felt a small measure of relief that they finally had a plan.
It was Artoo who had first discovered the problem. They’d plunged through the wormhole and out the other side, expecting to see the stars of their own galaxy. But, almost immediately, the wormhole had disappeared and the alarm claxons had gone off. In a flurry of movement, the two Jedi and C-3PO had hastened to determine what the cause of the alarm was. Artoo, ever calm, had simply plugged into the computer terminal and had a long talk with the ship’s computer.
What he reported left the two organic beings feeling cold. The dragon scales had not fared well in the trip through the wormhole. Small fissures had appeared in them, which, in turn, caused stress on the surrounding outer hull. Artoo had been sent out to do minor repairs, but not even his welding torch could fix the problem one hundred percent.
For the past two weeks, the Falcon had limped through space under threat that the internal atmosphere would bleed out into the vacuum, killing both Jedi. The constant uncertainty, compounded by the fact that they were not home yet and had no way to get there, had caused many sleepless nights for the two Jedi. Especially for Zahra, who had been having issues with sleep even prior to this latest catastrophe.
It didn’t help, either, that she felt responsible for their predicament. She kept telling herself that one wayward journey through a wormhole was one thing—you might even call it an adventure! But two? And not to mention that the Falcon was in need of even more repairs!
If only…. Oh, if only she had listened to Master Skywalker. If only she had put her faith in her fellow Jedi instead of taking it upon herself to find her missing master, none of this would have happened! She spent most of her time avoiding Lowie and the others. When she slept, her sleep was fitful, filled with haunting dreams that she couldn’t remember upon waking. The hours she spent awake grew until three days had passed and she had not slept at all.
When they set course for the new planet, Zahra retreated to her room and meditated until she felt some of her exhaustion lift away. Then Threepio came to let her know they were approaching the new planet. With a sigh, she opened her eyes and stared at the wall in front of her. After a moment, she stood and went to join Lowbacca in the cockpit.
They headed for the northern hemisphere, angling towards the part of the planet in its night cycle. The satellites in orbit were unsophisticated so they didn’t have any fear of being detected. They entered the atmosphere and Zahra gritted her teeth as she piloted the ship through the dense clouds. Worrying about satellites was one thing, but being seen by sentient eyes was another, so she and Lowie reached out with the Force and cloaked the ship as well as they could from within it. Zahra glanced at the computer screen between the seats and saw that they were flying over a densely populated coastal area.
Lowbacca pulled up the scans Artoo had made of the planet while they’d still been en route. “Head further inland,” he told her. “There’s plenty of land that is unpopulated in the middle of this continent. We should be able to find a place to hide the ship and work on repairs.”
Zahra nodded and kept the ship slightly above the clouds. She slowed the ship even further, hoping the sound of the engines wouldn’t draw attention. For a few seconds, everything was peaceful. Then it all went to hell.
All at once, a bright light shot up into the sky several yards in front of them causing proximity alarms to go off, the ship began to shake around them, and a heavy darkness settled on Zahra’s heart. She traded a look of horror and fear with Lowie and she could see he felt it too.
“What the hell?!” she shouted, trying to regain control of the ship. She jerked the controls and the ship spun down out of the cloud cover. “SHIT!” she screamed as some kind of aerial transport slid past the nose of their ship, with inches to spare. “FUCK!” She pulled back on the controls and the ship shot upwards.
“Maybe I should fly the ship?” Lowbacca suggested.
She shot him a glare as she leveled the Falcon out again. Lowie held up his hands and said no more. She flew the ship back into the clouds and skirted around the tunnel of light, trying to ignore the darkness that pulsated from it in waves.
“Lowie,” she finally said as they drifted over the planet, the darkness of the light receding behind them, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
They shared a grim look, and flew onwards.
The next morning dawned brightly. They had settled the ship in the shadow of some mountains, in a small hollow formed by tall trees, their evergreen leaves expelling a fragrant scent. The mountain caps high above were dusted white with snow, something that put Zahra in mind of her home planet. She turned her gaze away and concentrated on her task, peeling the dragon scales from the underbelly of the Falcon.
Zahra tossed a scale down with a look of disgust. They were now blackened from the heat of reentry into another planet’s atmosphere. They hadn’t lasted as long as she’d expected. “Maybe I should’ve insisted on Mithril, after all,” she muttered to herself, but even as she said it, she knew she wouldn’t have. The dwarves of Erebor had precious little of that white gem left; she would not have asked them for it.
She sighed and kicked half-heartedly at the pile of scales. She was tired and in a really pissy mood, and thinking about the past didn’t help. Neither she nor Lowie had slept the previous night, both too anxious about this new world they were on to settle down. Which meant she was now on day four of zero sleep.
Zahra shook her head trying to clear it of the fog that threatened to cover it.
She turned and walked to the edge of the Falcon, leaning against one of its legs. Crossing her arms, she tilted back her head and looked out at the world they were on. It was beautiful, peaceful. How could such a world be filled with the dark side? What was that light they’d seen? What could it hold that would produce such darkness? She’d felt something similar on Middle-Earth. But that had been different. The darkness of that world hadn’t been fully awake. It had still laid mostly dormant, waking in spurts but never fully rising.
This? This darkness was very much awake and aware and out there somewhere. What did it mean—if anything—that she and her friends had found themselves on another world that stood upon the brink of disaster? Zahra had never believed in fate, but….
“It’s just a coincidence,” she said to herself. “Just a coincidence.” Her jaws stretched in a yawn. A coincidence…. If she said it enough, would she believe it?
Lowbacca exited the ship and looked at Zahra staring off into the distance. He frowned, baring his teeth thoughtfully. Something was wrong with her. Something more than being far from home and looking for her master. Something had happened to her in Middle-Earth, but what he did not know. He had not broached the subject with her for fear that she would shut him down. In fact, he knew she would. She didn’t like to cause people to worry. It would be an admirable trait if it didn’t drive him crazy.
And this new planet, with its shafts of light that stank of darkness… he was sure it could not be helping. She wasn’t sleeping. He knew that. He knew she had been avoiding him, as much as one could on a spaceship. She felt guilty for their predicament. He didn’t blame her for any of this. It was the will of the Force. They couldn’t control it. It troubled him that she felt she should.
Lowie’s frown deepened as he watched her.
For now, she needed to sleep. All else could be dealt with later.
He squared his broad shoulders and headed toward her. “Zahra,” he said. She jerked, looking up at him. “Are you well?” he asked, eyes taking in the deep shadows and bags under her eyes. She was pale, too, her skin sallow-looking and clinging to her frame. She was beautiful for a human, but with poor nourishment and lack of sleep, her beauty had faded, and here she was, a shadow of her former self.
She looked up at him for a long moment, her eyes still distant. He watched as her gaze cleared and settled on him with keen sharpness. A fevered light filled her eyes and she nodded. “I’m fine, Lowbacca,” she said.
His eyes narrowed. Her voice was too high; she sounded like she had been holding onto a rope and was just about ready to let go. He couldn’t let her. “Are you sure?” he asked, stepping closer.
She looked up at him, her bottom lip trembled, and then she ducked her head and nodded again. “I’m sure,” she mumbled.
Lowbacca let her answer hang between them for a long drawn out moment. Then he rumbled deep in his chest and patted her shoulder lightly. “Go onto the ship,” he said as gently as he could. “Get some sleep.”
“I can’t sleep,” she said looking up with glassy green eyes. “It eludes me, like trying to grasp my own shadow.”
He put his huge paw-like hand on the center of her back and led her toward the ramp, walking beside her. “Come,” he said. “I will help you.”
“But the ship--!” she started, digging in her heels.
“Can wait,” he finished evenly. He had let her take command of this mission; it had been her idea anyway. But now he had to put his foot down. He was a Jedi Knight and she was a Padawan. He had to assert some authority now, for her sake. “Come,” he said again.
She looked from the scales to him and then sighed, her shoulders drooping in defeat. She let him lead her up into the ship, but Lowbacca felt no joy at this victory. As he helped her into her bunk and guided her through meditation techniques to cleanse her mind of worry and fear, he couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever know true peace.
The meadow she was in should have been beautiful. Indeed, the flowers and tall grass should have been bright with color and the sky above should have been blue. But there was no color in this twilight world. All was gray, shadows unnaturally long, the sun a stark white sphere in the sky that gave no warmth. Zahra frowned and looked about her. She didn’t see anything in the great expanse, not at first.
Then her eyes fixated on a figure approaching from the distance. She paused and tilted her head, puzzled. Who was it? And where was she? She didn’t recognize this place. And she had been to more than a few planets.
The figure began to take shape and she can see it was a man. Pale hair glinted in the sunlight, his clothes as gray and colorless as the rest of the world.
He was drawing close, and she could make out more of his appearance. He wasn’t bad looking, and very much human, but she didn’t recognize him. She’d never seen him before.
“Who are you?” she tried to say, but her voice had no sound. She tried to speak again and still nothing.
Uncertainty began to stir in her heart and Zahra took a step back. She frowned heavily at the approaching man and reached out to the Force, still present even in dreams, and touched him with it.
She gasped soundlessly, and her heart constricted, her knees growing weak and buckling beneath her. She fell to the ground and, after a frozen moment that seemed to last an eternity, she stumbled to her feet, turned and ran.
The world did not change around her. It stayed the same. She looked over her shoulder at the man and her heart, already racing, twisted and pounded all the harder at what she saw. The man was even closer. She was running away, but he, still walking, was gaining on her.
“No!” she shrieked, but, again, there was no sound. She whipped her head around and tried to pick up the pace, but she knew, deep down she knew, there was no point.
Even as she thought it, she felt a hand clasp her shoulder and she was spun around. She tripped over her feet and, if not for the grip on her shoulder, would have fallen. She looked up at the man who stood before her and saw the only color in the gray world that blazed hotly: red eyes.
The man smiled.
Zahra screamed as the darkness engulfed her…. And then she woke up.
Zahra sat up in her bunk and panted, her chest heaving. She lifted her hands in front of her, staring at the trembling appendages.
“What…” she whispered. “What?” Her voice broke with the words and a sob escaped her. She clenched her hands into fists that shook. “Only a dream.” But it had not felt like a dream. It had felt all too real. Zahra closed her eyes and steadied her breathing until calm filled her and she centered herself. Her trembling stopped and she opened herself to the Force seeking answers.
Surely meditation would lend her knowledge of what she had seen. That man with the red eyes.… While not unusual in other species, like the Chiss, for example, red eyes in a human was unheard of. But then, she was in another galaxy. If there were humans here, perhaps some had red eyes?
She knew it was a ridiculous assumption even as she made it, but Zahra held fast to that tenuous belief as if it were a lifeline. For all other conclusions were too horrid, too frightening to entertain.
“Master,” she whispered into the Force, “guide me. I need to know….” What? She didn’t know what questions to ask. And her Master was not one with the Force. If she was, Zahra would know. Master Danai was very much alive, galaxies away. Alive. To think anything else would be too much for Zahra to bear.
In the end it did not matter. The Force was there, as it always was, but Zahra found no answers in it.