Never A Dull Day
"Hove to, and prepare to be boarded!"
Jenna rolled her eyes. They were nothing if not persistent; she had already blown up two of them, and a third was limping along on half power, and would be lucky to make it back to base. That left two of them that might conceivably be a threat – and two against one odds was barely a gamble. She made no effort to reply to the demand, and instead ran through a quick systems check. The engines were at 96% operational capacity, the weapons at 67%. She had fired more shots that she should have done when she had been escaping from the police patrols after loading her cargo. Still, 67% was firepower enough for two and a half Federation patrol ships. There should be more than enough left over to deal with any other trouble that might come her way. She smiled mirthlessly, and as the demand for her surrender burst from her communications systems once again, she swung her stick, sending her ship into a neat dive. She would be behind the Federation ships in an instant, and she made a bet with herself that she could take out all three ships with just three shots. Maybe two. It was nothing she hadn't done before.
With a flash like all the thunderstorms in the galaxy hurling their lightning bolts at once, her little ship shook suddenly, violently, and she threw up an arm to protect her eyes. Instinct told her to jerk at her stick, and she dove, dove, darting like a songbird escaping a falcon. What in all of space was that? Her instruments were going crazy, and as she righted the little vessel, she looked back toward the Federation ships. Did they have some new weapon? Could they possibly have unleashed that flare? But the ships had gone. A faint smudge of dying smoke drifted forlornly, a scattering of debris showing where the ships had been. And in their place... She raised an eyebrow. This was new. Never let it be said that life couldn't still present her with surprises.
It was a ship, that much was clear. Much bigger that her own; a disc shape, or near enough, tapering into a pair of horns at the prow. She was looking up at the underside of it, and she could see powercells and engine nacelles sparking and juddering, a silent scream of complaint that was as clear as day. Slowly she moved her own ship closer, checking out the gunports. None seemed operational. Certainly no visible weapon made any effort to track her. She thumbed her controls, checking for power signatures, and frowning all the while. They were weird guns, like something from the ancient fighter aircraft that she had seen in vids back in school. With a frown she turned to her communications system, searching out a likely frequency. Whatever this ship was, she needed to make contact. Those little Federation flyers would not be so far from the nearest moon without some sort of back up. There was a starship or a battlecruiser on the approach, or she was the Empress Servalan.
"Hello?" she barked, broadcasting on as short a range as possible, but on multiple channels. "This is Captain Stannis, aboard Gan's Revenge. Please respond." Her answer was a burst of static from all channels before, after a moment, her computer managed to get a fix upon a tinny and echoing signal.
"... Solo... Falcon... What in the name of... happened?"
"You're not clear. Is it Captain Solo? Captain Falcon? You need to vacate the area, Captain. Believe me, this zone is not going to be a safe place to be in, very shortly."
"Engines..." There was a burst of static, and what sounded like a roar. "I know! It ain't as if I... Chewie, careful with that, we don't know..." A louder, sharper hiss of static, another roar, and then suddenly the channel was clear. "Hello? Did that work?"
"You sound much clearer, if that's what you mean." Another roar came in answer, and she frowned. Either this Captain Solo/Falcon was about to be eaten by his cargo, or he was co-piloting with something very unusual. She elected not to ask. Yet. "Captain... Solo?"
"Yes, ma'am. Captain Solo, aboard the Millennium Falcon. And please tell me those guys I just obliterated were the enemy."
"By anybody's reckoning. Probably even their own. They've got friends on their tails though, so unless you feel up to an all-out fight right now...?"
"Lady, right now I'm not even sure which way is up. I just won this thing in a poker game. I was testing out the hyperspace engines, and next thing I know, I'm crashing through what looks like a hailstorm of angry kaleidoscopes, and then... where the hell is this place anyway? It doesn't match any of my star charts." There was another roar – if roar was the right word to use. There was no ferocity to it, she realised. It sounded more like a question. "Yeah, my sentiments exactly, Chewie. Next time we see Lando, you can ask him whatever you want, however you want." There was a sigh. "You have a base near here, Captain? I don't know that we can travel far or fast, but we'll try."
"Yes. Just keep up." She swore softly as she turned her ship around. She didn't know these people. She could easily have left them to their fate, and yet now here she was leading them straight to her base, a shielded, secret hideaway on a half-shattered asteroid that she had come to think of very much as home. She would probably have to abandon it after this. Above her, sparks and flashes showed where the Millennium Falcon's engines were struggling to obey the helm. Painfully slowly, the ship turned around, and all the while she could hear Solo and his roaring friend arguing heatedly. She had no idea what the friend was saying – she could not even distinguish individual words. Clearly the two of them understood each other just fine, however, and were bickering like an old married couple. It almost reminded her of the old days, being trapped aboard the Liberator alongside Blake and Avon.
"So where we headed, anyway?" If the tone of voice was anything to go by, the invisible Solo was regaining his confidence. Presumably the fact that his spitting, sparking ship hadn't done anything else especially weird had restored his faith in himself, and in it.
"Just stay on my tail, flyboy. You never know who might be listening in." The mysterious roaring co-pilot made some remark, and Solo's voice came in answer.
"I am being polite! Just wondering, that's all. For all we know, that's the Imperial Guard we're trying to follow."
"No Imperial Guard around here," said Jenna, scanning the immediate area to be sure that there were no Federation officers either. The scanners were clear, but she did not expect them to remain that way for long. "Never heard of any, for that matter. What sector are you from?"
"Nowhere near here, that's for sure. These star patterns don't look like anything I ever saw, and I see a lot of space." The roaring sound came again. "We both have. Upways and sideways and any which ways, we know the galaxy. I'd swear to it."
"I'd say the same." The roaring sound came again, softer now, almost crooning. Solo threw back a conversational reply, and Jenna frowned at her communicator. She had always been a good judge of character, and for some reason she found herself trusting the invisible pair. "I'm a smuggler. I go everywhere, and I see everything. I hide out on planets and moons and asteroids that most people will never even know about, much less visit. I meet and make deals with every kind of scum, and pirate, and gentleman crook this galaxy ever saw born. But I never heard of anything that talks like your friend there. What language is that?"
"Chewbacca's a Wookiee. He's from Kashyyyk. Can't exactly miss a Wookiee, lady. If you've seen anything of the galaxy, you'll have seen one someplace." There was a pause. "You sure you're not drinking some special kind of liquor up there?"
"Matter of fact I've got a ship full of it. Ought to make a fortune if I can get it to Gauda Prime without somebody blowing me to smithereens. But I never touch the stuff; not while I'm flying. I'm sorry, Captain Solo, but I've never heard of a Wookiee, or of Kashyyyk, and I've never heard of any Imperial Guard. Have you heard of the Federation? Of Earth? Of the Empress Servalan?"
"No." There was a short pause, followed by a sigh of something very like irritation. "Looks to me like we've us got something Grade A weird."
"Yes." Given that she seemed to be dealing with a magically appearing spacecraft, and a pair of very likely alien strangers, Jenna did not feel inclined to argue. "Lucky old me."
Her base was invisible to all but the most observant of spectators, half man-made shelter, and half natural cave, a relic of some long ago bombardment by space debris. It was badly lit, the roof was low, and every space had long been encroached upon by a growing collection of spaceship parts, computer components, contraband, and food of questionable origin. Nonetheless – or perhaps therefore – it was home. Jenna felt a certain satisfaction as she guided her ship down to a neat landing near to the hidden entrance. Solo made a rather rockier touchdown nearby, in his less well-behaved vessel, but she couldn't deny that there had been a definite flair to the way in which he had followed her through the rocky debris that encircled the place. He was a good pilot, that much was clear.
"Home sweet home, huh," he said, and she shot the communications array a suspicious glare.
"It's no pleasure planet, maybe, but yes, it's home. Can't be too choosy when half of the galaxy is out to get you."
"You don't say." There was a wistful edge to the unseen captain's voice – and, unmistakably, to the quiet, answering roar of his partner. "Yeah, don't I know it. An asteroid is better than a whole lot of the places we've been living in lately though, buddy. You gotta admit that." He raised his voice slightly, pointedly including Jenna in the conversation. "I mean, you miss a few payments, you break a few laws, and suddenly your so-called friends start disappearing faster than civilians when the clock hits curfew, right?"
"Well, don't get too comfortable here." Standing up, Jenna hit the door release button, at the same time drawing her pistol. "That ship of yours is too big to escape detection if anybody looks very hard. We might need to make a quick getaway." She paused to pick up a blaster rifle to bolster her little arsenal, then jumped to the ground. "Now come out here with your hands up, and let's talk about how friendly I'm going to be."
"I shoulda known." There was a grumpy sense of resignation to the man's voice, but he made no objection, and a moment later a somewhat tousled brown head appeared through a hatch on the top of the Falcon. It was followed by a man, perhaps Jenna's own age, dressed in a black and white outfit as battered as his banged-up ship. Once free of the hatch, he raised his hands above his head, a large and chunky blaster pistol dangling from one thumb. Jenna almost smiled. Federation officers had a stiffness and formality that was practically bred into them; this man was a fellow smuggler, and she was all but sure of it. As he clambered down to ground level, a second head appeared in the hatchway, equally brown, equally tousled – but there the similarity ended.
As the being hove into view, she estimated its height at seven feet – perhaps more. Long, shaggy fur covered it from head to foot, and an impressive set of fangs showed in its half open mouth. Jenna blinked. When Solo had claimed that a Wookiee was a hard thing to miss, he hadn't been kidding.
"A... Wookiee?" she asked. Solo tossed his blaster onto the ground at his feet, and flashed her a cheerful grin.
"His name's Chewbacca. And you really never saw one before, did you. Where you from, lady?"
"You're the one who spontaneously appeared right in front of me. I think it's more a question of where you're from." She looked hard at Solo, then at Chewbacca, then sighed and lowered both guns. "Well, I might be the one with a couple of strangers to worry about, but it looks to me as though you're the ones in real trouble. Just how much do you know about that hyperspace drive of yours?"
"Not a lot." Lowering his hands, Solo retrieved his pistol, and jammed it into its holster, then looked fondly back at the ship. "She's a beauty though, isn't she? Fastest ship in the galaxy." Chewbacca growled something, and Solo shot him an exasperated glare. "Traitor. Anyway, that's not what you said when I won her."
"Who from? Your worst enemy?"
"My..." Solo shrugged. "Sometimes he's my friend. You know how it is."
"Unfortunately, yes." She sighed. "Well goodness knows where – or when – you really come from, but if I were you I'd try finding a way back there. This isn't a very friendly place to be – especially since your energy signature is likely to be very unique, and you just obliterated a handful of Federation ships."
"By accident," grumbled Solo. Jenna shook her head.
"Not important. Not to the Federation. They'll have a death notice on you before they've finished scanning the wreckage back there."
"Friendly types, huh. Just what is this Federation?"
"It's a tyranny," A note of disgust rose to life in Jenna's voice, something that she was powerless to hide. "A giant, powerful force that rules the whole galaxy. They run everything. All law, all government, and all for their own benefit."
"Sounds familiar." Solo exchanged a meaningful look with Chewbacca, who growled a soft reply. "Yeah, buddy. We throw ourselves half way 'round the universe, and seems nothing's different where we end up. Evil empires every which way. Gets so a smuggler can hardly earn a dishonest living." There was something in the glint of his eyes that suggested his world-weary complaint was not entirely serious. Jenna smiled faintly.
"Got much of a cargo?" she asked. Solo shrugged, a cagey look creeping into his eyes.
"Alcohol, you said. Good drinking?"
"Isn't it all?" She nodded towards the entrance to her living quarters, leading the way into the gloomy, cramped interior. Solo followed, Chewbacca grumbling at the low ceiling as he brought up the rear. "Maybe we should try out each other's stock?"
"Alcohol from the other end of the universe, huh?" A slow, cheerful grin crossed Solo's face. "I could go for that. What you say, Chewie?" Jenna needed no translation to hear the affirmation in the Wookiee's response, and she smiled as well.
"I guess booze is an intergalactic language." She cracked open a large, green bottle that she had already liberated from its crate the night before. It's twin – its triplet as well for that matter – stood on the dusty floor nearby, twinkling prettily in the light from the battled old arc lamp that had sprung to life at the sound of their voices. "On a more serious note..."
"The other end of the universe. Yeah." Solo took the two filled glasses that she passed over, handing one on to Chewie. The Wookiee growled softly, and Solo clapped him on the back, a gesture that was clearly not quite as casual as it appeared.
"Yeah, I know. You got a family to think about. But for all we know, we may not be as far away as we think, right?" Chewbacca's response was plainly dubious. Han bridled slightly. "Well it got us away from that Empire patrol, didn't it? Okay, so I may have overshot Tattooine a little. But who wants to go there anyway? Damn desert planet. It's all dust farmers, and spies for Jabba the Hut." Chewie grunted again, and Han threw back his drink in one swallow.
"Okay, okay. But it's just teething troubles, and you were the one who told me to give her everything. We must have hit a – a – an I don't know. A temporal thing, or a cosmic what-have-you." A bright, broad grin suddenly lit up his face. "Did you feel that power, though? Man, can she fly. When we hit the Kessel Run in that baby, nobody's gonna see us for smoke. Not the Empire, not the bounty hunters. Not anybody. We'll be rich in a month. A year, tops." Chewie growled, and Han glared.
"What do you mean, 'Or dead in half that'?"
"Getting back to the more immediate issue," interjected Jenna, as she refilled their glasses, "we do have to talk about this properly. I mean, a jump like that. Was it just space that you travelled through, or time as well? Space and time are the same thing, more or less. Who's to say that you're not in your own past or future right now?"
"Thanks, but I prefer to worry about one thing at a time, if it's all the same to you." Han sighed, and looked across at Chewie. "Time and space? I hope somebody somewhere finds this funny."
"And if the Federation finds out, which they will, they'll be wanting that ship of yours." She saw the possessive gleam in Han's eyes, and understood it well. "On top of which, they'll be wanting you anyway, like I said."
"Blowing up their soldiers was an accident. Anybody could see that. How was I supposed to know that I'd land on top of them, when I didn't even know I was coming here to begin with? Damned lucky I didn't crash land into the middle of a planet or something." He looked faintly green at that thought, but shook it off quickly. "Why can I never be wanted by anybody nice? It's all evil empires, or slimy megalomaniacs. And now an evil federation to boot. What am I, a magnet for psychopaths?" Chewie growled something. From the expression in his big, fur-lined eyes, Jenna got the impression that it was intended to be sympathetic. Han sighed, then reached over and gave his partner a fond thump on the shoulder. "Tell me about it, buddy. Best bet looks like finding a way home. At least there we know all the best hiding places. Better the enemy you know, too, I guess." He glanced up. "No offence, lady. I'm sure you're great at what you do, but we can't hang around without getting you shot up, and that don't seem like a good way of returning the hospitality."
"Getting shot at is practically a hobby, but I do take your point. In your position, I'd want to go home too. You get a feel for local space. You know your own kind. You know where you're safe. And in this galaxy that's practically nowhere." She handed them their refilled glasses, their bright turquoise contents casting a muted gleam in the bad light. "To home. And getting there in one piece."
"Wherever the hell it is, yeah." Han took a sip, taking the time to appreciate the drink a little more with this second glass. "You know, this isn't half bad. I might consider staying in a galaxy that brews stuff like this." Beside him, Chewie threw the second glass down as quickly as the first, then crooned a soft response. Jenna quirked an eyebrow as a question, and Han smiled.
"He's not impressed. Takes a lot of alcohol to have any effect on a Wookiee. When you're nine feet and then some, and it's all solid muscle, most things bounce right off."
"What's their alcohol like?"
Han's smile took on a reflective quality. "Interesting. In every sense. I was blind for forty-eight hours the first time." Chewie growled something, and Han gave a rueful nod. "Yeah, well. That cabin needed a good clean anyway." He heaved a sigh. "Listen, lady. Nice though all this chat is, I got a cargo waiting, and a whole lot of distance to cover before I can deliver it. Also several representatives of a very proactive merchants' association who'll do amusing things to my arms and legs if I don't make my deadline. Chewie and I need to think about moving."
"Moving where though? You appeared out of nowhere. Teleporting aside – and I never heard of anything that could teleport an entire ship – that isn't exactly in the universal playbook." She refilled their glasses, brow crinkled in thought. Han shrugged.
"Wasn't a whole lot of thought involved in getting us here. Maybe flying blind's our answer."
"Perhaps. Sometimes leaping before you look can be the best way. For what it's worth though, I used to travel on an alien ship. A very fast alien ship, with very unusual engines. I used to study them during quiet periods." Jenna smiled at the thought, sipping slowly at her drink. "Not that there were many of those. But I still managed to learn a thing or two. Maybe a look at your engines might answer some questions? Between the three of us, it could be that we know enough about engines, and space, and speed, to figure a few things out."
"Maybe." Han brightened. "And maybe a little of our cargo, mixed with a little of yours, can help kick-start a few brain cells. We'll put our feet up, get the moonshine flowing, and talk it all out, right?"
"It's a plan." Jenna knocked back the rest of her drink, and set the glass down on a cargo container with a sharp click. "So what's this hooch of yours like?"
"Lively." Han's grin was slow, broad, and only mildly chemically enhanced. "Illegal on three worlds, and heavily restricted on ten. I think you're gonna like it."
"Are you trying to get me drunk, Captain Solo?"
"No, ma'am. Just being a good guest." He turned towards the door. "You really think we can figure this thing out?"
"I don't think there's anybody more qualified to discuss speed and complicated manoeuvres than a bunch of smugglers. Beyond that..."
"Yeah." His smile returned, not quite as broad, but confident nonetheless. "I've faced worse odds. Reckon I will again, soon enough."
"So there we were, four of us, in a shuttle hardly bigger than a beer crate." Her face slightly pink, one hand gesticulating rather more energetically than usual, Jenna could not keep the smile from her face. "And we're getting buffeted six ways from Sunday by atmospheric pressure, the landing gear's jammed, and everybody's trying to look like they're not scared witless. And then Blake says: 'Now would be an awfully good time to land, Jenna.' And of course Avon has to have his say as well, and jumps in with: 'In one piece, if at all possible'." She sighed. "Everybody always thinks it's so easy."
"Landlubbers," said Han, and Chewbacca rumbled an agreement. "They never appreciate the feel a good pilot needs to get for a vessel. The way the controls move, the way the engines sound. The balance of a ship, and how it can all change in a moment." Jenna nodded at his words, and Chewbacca growled something. It sounded like a question.
"He wants to know if you did land in one piece," translated Han. Jenna smirked.
"More or less. I spun it out a bit though. Never could resist it with the two of them trying to out stoic each other." She drained her glass one more time, and had to squint to see where to set it down. "Sometimes I miss those days. The Liberator was an amazing ship. You'd have loved her. But other people are always such a complication."
"The fewer people you have to trust, the fewer people there are to sell you out," said Han, with the voice of obvious experience. Chewbacca chimed in with a soft roar, and Jenna laughed.
"And the fewer people there are to share the profits?" she guessed. This time Chewbacca's growl showed clear amusement, and Han laughed.
"Got it in one. We'll have you fluent in no time. Or we would, if we could stay." He finished his own drink, and stared into the empty glass. "Inspiration hasn't struck yet though. Maybe we're gonna be here a while after all."
"We'll figure it out." Jenna caught up their latest bottle, and managed to squeeze three more glasses out of it. "Come on. A toast – to inspiration."
"To inspiration," slurred Han, and waved his glass in the air, with the slightest of wobbles. "And to getting this stuff home before we drink it all."
"I'd be quite happy to drink it all," said Jenna. He glowered over the rim of his glass.
"It ain't your arms and legs likely to get minced and fried by my clients. Although they'd have a job finding me right now, I guess. Maybe being lost in space and time has its advantages." Chewbacca chimed in with a growl, and Han leaned over to punch him affectionately on the arm. "Yeah, I know, buddy. We'll get you back to your family, I promise. Eventually..." He trailed off, and knocked back the rest of his drink, leaving the doubts unvoiced. Jenna finished her own drink, and tried and failed to put her glass on top of Han's.
"I think there's a little pessimism rearing its head. We need to get shot if it. Looks to me like we've got two ways of doing that."
"Yeah?" Han didn't sound too interested. Chewbacca gave him a nudge, in apparent remonstrance.
"Yeah. Either we drink more, and make everything look cheerier that way, or we go for a shot of adrenaline instead. Or conceivably both, if you don't mind things getting messy. Either way, it's something to kickstart the brain cells."
"You got something in mind?" asked Han, a gleam of interest beginning to show itself once again in his eyes. She nodded.
"You keep telling me how amazing that ship of yours is. How about a race?"
"Are you kidding? Lady, you won't see our dust. That baby is the fastest thing that ever got built. I mean, yeah, there's a few little glitches here and there. A few shakes, a few rattles..."
"A tendency to throw you across universes without warning?"
"Well, yeah. Like I said, she's not perfect. Still better than that tin bucket you call a spaceship."
"Those are fighting words, Solo."
"You wanna little bet to go with that challenge of yours, Stannis?"
"I'm starting to warm to the idea, yes. My cargo against yours. And when I win it off you, I might even help you fight off your clients if they come looking. I don't actually want your arms and legs minced."
"And fried," he reminded her, and nodded slowly. "Sure, why not. My cargo against yours. Winner takes all. I'm warning you though – we might as well already call me the winner."
"You betcha." He was all confidence, undeterred by the slight lack of co-ordination that they were both experiencing. "I'm always the winner."
"You've never met me before," she reminded him. He smiled at that.
"Okay then. What are we waiting for?" Chewbacca growled something, and Han shot him a faint glare. "What you mean, 'sobriety'? I'm perfectly sober." Chewbacca growled again, "Okay, okay. Mostly sober. I've won races drunker than this, so why worry?" The answer was an inevitable growl, and he frowned. "Well yeah, fair point. We never did have a ship with a slight time travel glitch before, sure, but what's the worst that can happen? Don't answer that." He swayed his way to his feet, and clapped his partner on the back. "Come on, buddy. Let's race. You know you want to." Chewbacca's answering eye roll was entirely wordless – and likely the same in every language across the cosmos.
"So what's the course?" A measure of sobriety restored to his voice now that he was back in the pilot's chair, Han's confidence somehow sounded even greater over the comms. Jenna smiled. There was something about his cockiness that she liked. It suggested that he was a man she could work with - a man sure of his abilities, and welcoming of the opportunity to use them. A man, in short, who was everything that she was herself. She might swagger a little less, and her grin might be a trifle less cocky, but she had out-flown and outmanoeuvred every other pilot she had ever met. Solo was an alien, or so it appeared. He might come from anywhere and any time – might conceivably have skills that she could not begin to imagine. Certainly his ship had more than a few surprises in its engines. The potential intrigued her, although in terms of the race she had no concerns. Her ship had its own measure of surprises, and her reputation as the greatest smuggler in the galaxy was not without good reason. She was warming to the idea of this race all the while.
"You think that rattle-trap of yours can slingshot around that little pink moon overhead? Looks closer than it is, and it's got a gravity trick or two up its sleeves, so go easy. I don't want to have to come and rescue you, flyboy."
"We'll see who ends up rescuing who, Stannis."
"That's almost worth a side bet."
"My ship against yours?"
"Maybe..." Happy though she was with the Gan's Revenge, she did consider the offer briefly. "But then again, maybe not. Not sure a ship that tries to kill me is the sort of adventure I've been looking for. You can keep her."
"Big of you."
"Your outfit, maybe."
"My clothes? That's not usually the way a lady goes about undressing a man."
"I never claimed to be a lady." She smirked at the comms unit, imagining the expression on his face; and quite sure that she understood Chewbacca's faint growl. The amusement in it was perfectly clear. Solo sighed.
"Okay, my clothes. You can keep yours though. I can't see me or Chewie in them."
"Shame." She checked over her systems, taking her ship up and out of the asteroid's limited gravity field. "The pink moon and back. Right?"
"You got it." With a clatter and a rattle, and a particularly ungainly shower of sparks, the Millennium Falcon rose up to loom alongside the much smaller Gan's Revenge. They made a mismatched duo, the one streamlined and compact, the other chunkier, more unwieldy in appearance, and in a noticeably worse state of repair.
"Who says 'Go'?" asked Solo a second later. Jenna mulled it over briefly, ever in mind of tactical advantages. Then she shrugged. This much she could give him.
"Go ahead," she offered. Predictably, without pause, he did just that. She laughed as she gripped tighter upon her joystick, for she had been ready for just such a trick. Together, with barely a flicker of starlight between them, the two ships leapt forward.
Solo took the lead at first. His ship was the larger, with more powerful engines, which gave him a better start. It was not an advantage that he kept for long. Jenna had adapted her little ship far beyond the dreams of its one-time manufacturer, and what it lacked in starting power, it made up for in tenacity. Quickly she gained ground, edging past Solo, inching ahead until the sparks from his wing-and-a-prayer engines no longer fizzled around her. From the comms unit came Chewbacca's soft growl, and an expletive from Solo. Moments later he was closing the distance between them, and beginning to edge ahead. Jenna tutted softly.
"Can't be having that, Stannis," she admonished herself, and with a flick of a switch here, and a stab at a button there, she was taking the lead again. This time the growl that she heard was Solo's, and she laughed to hear it.
"You speaking Kashyyyk, Solo?" she asked. Chewbacca laughed. Whatever Solo's response, it brought a fresh shower of sparks, and a brief burst of flame that made her sensors squawk. The Millennium Falcon began to slide past her again, and her eyes leapt from screen to screen, judging, calculating, estimating. She released a little more of her ship's reserve power, and once again the lead was hers. Her knuckles whitened on the joystick, the extra power needing a little more strength to keep it in check. Not long to the moon now. She could use its gravity to give her engines a boost, as long as she timed it right – as long as her sums were everything that they usually were. She would certainly have to hope that they were – one calculation wrong, and she would be burned up so fast that she would never know it.
"Think you're such a great flyer, huh Stannis?" The grin was clear in Solo's voice. She could practically see it, stretching from ear to ear as he relished the challenge. "You ain't seen nothing yet. I told you this ship was special."
"Prove it, flyboy." She was smiling too, albeit less broadly, the adrenaline making her blood sing with the thrill of it all. Solo's reply was a brief, merry laugh, before she heard, seemingly from all around her, an entirely new sound. Whatever it was, it seemed to make space itself shake. For a moment, all around her were sparks and more sparks – different colours this time, and different sizes to boot. The Falcon edged ahead slightly, its curved flanks shivering as though with cold.
"Fastest ship in the galaxy. Eat space dust, Stannis!" Han's boast burst from the speakers as a shout of excitement, Chewbacca's gleeful roar echoing behind. A second later the Millennium Falcon darted forward, a blaze of light following it. Jenna glowered.
"Fastest ship in your galaxy, maybe. You're in my galaxy now, Solo." All the same, she was impressed. It clearly was a remarkable ship – but then, so was hers. With another brief round of calculations and estimations, she gritted her teeth, flipped open a control panel, and loaned the drive system some power from life support. It wasn't as though oxygen was that important – or not as important as winning, anyway.
Boosted far beyond their usual limits, her engines screeched at her, the sound echoing uncomfortably in her ears. If her knuckles had been white before, they were whiter than snow now, the joystick quivering beneath her strong hand. Her jaw clenched firm with her concentration. The Falcon loomed closer, filling her screen, and with a careful tilt of the stick, she darted past it, angling back in front of the other vessel for maximum gloating potential. Han's grumbling over the spacewaves was barely audible, and it made her laugh quietly to herself. Things were definitely getting interesting. As confident as she was, she could not truly be sure who was going to win this. It was the best workout that she and her ship had had in weeks.
"What do you mean, 'Give her everything'?" she heard Han say. Chewbacca's voice came in reply, the curious sound that Han understood so readily. "After what happened last time?" There was another growl, and Jenna thought that she detected a hint of finality to it – the sound of somebody determined, and very sure of themselves.
"Well, sure," answered Han, sounding a little less certain. "It might win us the race. Or it might get us home. Or it might blow us to smithereens, or catapult us into another universe entirely. Those ain't the kinds of odds I usually go for, buddy." Again, a brief roar. Han laughed shortly in reply, and Jenna's eyes narrowed. The race, it seemed, was about to get even more interesting. She plotted her next move carefully, eyeing her instruments, considering her options. Behind her, she heard a curious rumble.
"No fair with the universe-hopping, boys. That's no way to win a race." There was no answer, but behind her the rumbling increased, and she saw the Falcon rise up to loom above her, sparks once again skittering across its underside. As she watched it, it began to shake.
"Er... Solo? Are you okay in there?" she asked. The Falcon shook harder, but whatever was going on, it seemed to cause Solo no alarm. She reached over to boost her own engines that little bit more, still hopeful of winning, whatever trick the alien vessel might be about to unleash. "You there, boys? Han?" There was no reply, but the ship was slowly moving away from her, slowly gathering speed, its engines shaking as though to shake themselves apart. Calculations flashed through her head. Ways of getting more speed, chances she hadn't yet taken. The race could still be hers. She froze. Something profoundly odd was underway. With a burst of bright white light so intense that she had to turn away, the Millennium Falcon shot forward, a scream of protest from the engines cutting out abruptly, replaced by a wheezing, groaning sound that sent vibrations up and down her spine. The Gan's Revenge shook violently, and it took her several seconds to restore control; to slow the ship down to a more sensible speed, and take proper stock. She was only mildly surprised to see that the Falcon had vanished. Ahead there was nothing but space, and a small, pink moon.
"Happy voyages, boys," she said to the emptiness. Maybe they had gone home. Maybe they had gone somewhere else. With a ship like that, anything was possible. Momentarily she wished that she had gone with them – to somewhere new, to somewhere different. To a whole other kind of adventure. She smiled at the thought. Perhaps not. A week with Han Solo, and the pair of them would probably be ready to kill each other. Still – she smiled in amusement – what a week it would be! But there was little point in speculating. She might yet see them again one day. For now there was her cargo to think of. The Federation to consider. Her life support system to reconfigure. No time to wonder about an errant space pirate and his growling best friend.
Well – a little time maybe. A little time, a big smile, and a new handful of happy memories.