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CHAPTER ONE

INERTIA

The resistance, of any physical object, to any change in its velocity.


 So Vader just blasts off into space and leaves Lars standing with a calibrator in one hand and treason in the other, that’s it?

Looks like it. A muscle in Lars’s jaw jumped as the shields snapped closed. Gravity and oxygen rushed back into the hangar and the servicemen all crowded the viewport, because it turned out there wasn’t a damned thing to do in a space battle if you weren’t flying the starfighter yourself.

He took one look out the viewport, green and red flashing brighter than the white stars, and turned away with a scowl.  

You better fuckin’ blow that thing to hell, Darth, Lars thought sourly as he slammed the tool back on to the console. A couple of stormies behind him jumped at the noise.

He stalked back out into the bay straight for the console of Vader’s TIE Advanced-08. Hell knew what had happened to his first seven. Lars pulled up all the diagnostics, prepping it for reentry, and casually modified the entries of Vader’s takeoff records to ignore the added weight and stress of the proton torpedoes.

“Shit, that was Sigma Four!” someone shouted over the clamor at the viewports. “That’s Kekovitch’s brother!”

Lars could hear the cries from across the bay as he mindlessly unscrewed the panel and pulled a multitool out of a pocket. First blood. The readouts were blurry, but all it probably needed was a couple realigned wires.

There were just whispers after Sigma Four. Someone was shouting. Lars patched up some insulation.

Now crying––something about parents. Lars straightened out three wires and vaguely wondered if he should tell them to shut up. He was in charge, wasn’t he?

Lars scowled at the thought. He was here to fix the ships, and not another damn thing, no matter what Vader said.

Whatever. He slapped the side of the machine and the display fizzled and blinked. The calibrator still wasn’t straight. TIEs had been out there fifteen minutes. Cheers from the servicemen, sort of. Bloodied both sides. Maybe another fifteen.

Twenty, thirty-three, sixty-eight. Someone was counting the bursts of fallen TIE explosions. Lars screwed the panel shut. What about the Death Star? The hell was taking Vader so long, anyway?

“Is that––Lord Vader? What is he doing?”

Shit. Lars kept screwing, arms not shaking, shoulders not tense, breathing not uneven, as his blood curdled.

“That’s the Star!” shouted someone else. “They’re headed for the Star!”

Lars abandoned the calibrator without a second thought for the viewports.

“Move!” he barked and pushed his way through. Finally.

When Lars came face-to-face with Vader––maybe only a couple klicks away from them––he was spiralling towards the side of the Death Star with an X-wing, easy to see in his modified TIE, and Lars snarled under his breath. The hell was he doing? If he missed the shot––all that talk about being the best fucking pilot ever––if he missed––

The sill of the viewport nearly crumpled under Lars’s grip, before Vader and the X-wing shot up, a new ship––a freighter?––came tumbling out of nowhere and then––yes––Vader spun into the trench and then out again, leftward––yes––the Death Star––

––exploded.

He didn’t feel anything. He didn’t blink as blast ricocheted outward with a furious blue band that snapped at everything in its wake. There were men on the Death Star. He didn’t know, he wasn’t told, but suddenly he knew that there had been and now there weren’t. He didn’t feel anything at all.

Done, over. Solved. Finally.  

Lars let go. He turned away from the light of the blast that blew away all the shadows on the faces of the engineer corps, and pushed his way back through them. All of them were standing, dumb and stupid with slack limbs and jaws, like theywere the dead men. Just as he escaped the crowd, someone began to sob. Something about weddings, or maybe children, or maybe funerals. He didn’t hear.

He’d fixed the problem.


 Except Vader caused a brand new problem.

All of the Black Squadron was either back or dead, except him. And there was no fucking way Vader was dead. Vader had crashed three ships in the thirty-six hours that Lars had been dragged along with him, and he’d walked away from each burning wreckage.

Lars’s gaze went to the viewport. The debris of the Death Star was still burning against the shields, so the tractor beam wouldn’t be any use, and the Imperials didn’t care to find those unlucky bastards who survived out there. Except Vader.

Nobody had said that and nobody had told him that the Empire didn’t care to pick the carcasses of its battles clean of the wounded. But they were whispering about it. Every other bay in the hangar was occupied with the Black Squadron’s TIEs except for Vader’s, and Lars was still trying to straighten the starsforsaken calibrator.

Not whispering about survivors. Whispering about Vader.

—-Vader’s down. Vader’s dead.

—if Vader’s not dead he’ll kill us for the delay!

—what about the Emperor? He’ll kill us—

no, no, no, it was the new man. The one that Vader brought back, the Emperor will kill him

—shush, he can hear you, you know what they say about Vader’s men—

Whispers. Whispers, whispers, they were all whispering, all the time—he’s the son of Skywalker, the freed slave—he can speak to the master—the master will draw blood for this—

There was blood. There was blood running down his back. Luke, why is there blood? Blood in the sands, blood in his mouth, blood in the water. Blood in his eyes.

COWARD.

He could see red, everywhere.

Lars slammed the hydrospanner back down on the calibrator. The screen cracked straight down the middle. He bit back a snarl, spanner nearly breaking in his grip, and turned around.

Straight-backed. The slave thinks he’s freed, he stands too tall, master. Straight-backed, proud, free, free, free.

“Hey!” he barked. He didn’t shout, but everyone stopped like he had, looking at him with wide eyes. “Which one of you was in charge before me?”

Nervous eyes, twitching back and forth. Men twisted and nudged and shrugged. Lars glared.

Fucking finally, a man stepped forward from behind a console.

“I’m Hudsaba Maberust,” the man said. He had red hair, and looked pissed. “Former Chief Engineer. Now Second Engineer.”

“Show me how to get to the bridge,” Lars demanded. That was what they called it, right? He'd been up there with Vader right as Alderaan had blown, but hell if he could remember the mile-something long journey it took to get back and forth from it.

The other technicians were shifting and muttering, and Lars belatedly realized that Maberust looked surprised. And not any happier than before.

“You can’t go to the bridge!” Maberust protested. There was some twittering, and a few broke out into outright laughter. “Not without orders! You may not be—“

Lars ignored the rest of what he said. Skywalker can go to the throne room he can speak with the masters rang in his ears. He ignored that, too, and leaned in to grab the collar of his uniform.

“That wasn’t a question,” Lars told him. The man’s eyes were wide, but the rest of the bridge was still laughing.

On a second thought, Lars wrapped his other hand around the man’s throat. The hangar went dead silent.

About damned time.

He could feel his pulse underneath his fingertips. Or maybe that was just a memory of a feeling.

“Now, do you want to find Vader or not?”

All he could hear was the man’s heavy, labored breathing until another technician stepped forward.

“You can—you can find Lord Vader? Sir?” The other, older man asked hesitantly.

Lars dropped his hands. Maberust stood stockstill where Lars had left him.  

“I can do some fucking simple math,” Lars said flatly. He turned around and strode towards the door.

Maberust followed. The hangar was still quiet.


 Maberust was silent the rest of the trip, which was took nearly an entire hour. For each elevator they entered, level they went up, and corridor they walked, uniforms got tidier, doors got thicker, and stormies got more suspicious.

That was a sight to see. Back on Tatooine, the only thing Lars had ever seen stormtroopers do was drink and use slaves for target practice.

Maberust waved, with shaking hands, his pass at every stormtrooper and gray-uniformed officer they passed, which made trip even damned longer. Lars took a look at every viewport they passed, which got bigger and bigger the further up they got, and tried to straighten out his calculations to account for the time the walk was dragging on. Stars. They must’ve walked a solid two miles to get up from the engineering bays and they weren’t even at the bridge yet.

Finally, they hit a pair of blast doors guarded by a dozen stormies lining the hallway leading to it. Maberust handed the pass and a datachip to him with sweaty hands.

“Sir,” he said, still a twice dozen paces from the troopers. “Do you know what you’re doing?”

So he was fucking sir now? All it took was a hand around his throat and the kid folded? No wonder Vader couldn’t stand these bastards.

Lars snatched the passes from Maberust’s hands. They were still shaking. “Keep up.”

Maberust stammered out some sort of yes sir and Lars ignored him, striding forward to the troopers.

“Identification and verification!” the first one to the left barked, next to a control panel that was barely more complicated than a standard magnetic lock.

“Chief Engineer,” Lars bit out, still moving onward, and slapped the passes into the trooper’s arms. He fumbled for his blaster as Lars punched open the override to march straight into the bridge. “Out of my way.”

Last time he'd been on the bridge, he'd been too busy looking at the stars, but now he was looking for something else. It was clear who was in charge once he was there.

A literal bridge split two banks of terminal bays full of sweaty uniforms with headsets down the middle. Screens about all sorts of things that Lars could only dream up: weapons, shields, supplies, reports, spies, words he didn’t even know. Up towards the massive viewport that spanned a full three hundred and sixty degrees, half a dozen officers stood at another bank of terminals with navigation screens and holodisplays of an entire armada of ships.

In the middle of it all, a slip of a man stood with medals across his chest. Metals are for kings and freedmen.

As soon as Lars caught sight of him, the man himself turned to face him. Probably the stormtroopers clattering about and yelling behind him, though they didn’t try to cuff him. Smarter than the Tatooinian ones, at least.

The admiral, commander, general, whatever––had a burn scar. Blind eye. That couldn’t mean anything good. Lars crossed his arms and felt for the handle of one of the blades within his wrappings.

“Chief Engineer,” Lars said, short. “I can find Vader.”

Every line on the man’s face tightened. “Lord Vader is not lost. He has simply yet to return.”

Really? Lars nearly smiled, and on an afterthought realized he was almost amused. Whatever, that wasn't his problem to fix. He didn’t say anything, because if he did, it’d get him shot by the ten stormtroopers standing behind him the two on either side.

“However…” The man took a step closer and waved off the stormies. “You came here with Lord Vader? From Tatooine?”

“Yes.” Lars bit back a scowl, hand still on the blade. So he knew him, did he? We all know you, child. Vader tell him he was the starsdamned Chief Engineer?

The man still stared at him. What, did he want him to say sir? Vader could stay lost, if that was the case.

Lars looked again at the admiral’s face, which was curling into a sneer, and unexpectedly wanted to laugh. Looked like the admiral knew it, too.

“What do you need?” the admiral asked, before pausing. He added: “Chief Engineer…?”

Lars looked around at the terminal bays, before he found what he was looking for: a vector coordinate readout, the ship sitting in the center, the Destroyer or Devastator, whatever it was called.

He swung himself down from the bridge, over the balustrade, and pushed past the uniforms murmuring into their headsets, fiddling with switches, and staring at him with wide eyes until he found the uniform he wanted. Why the hell were people always looking at him? Weren’t they supposed to be doing their jobs?

His fingertips itched the urge to take something apart and build it up again. Those terminals…your name isn’t Lars that’s a freedman’s name––are you as good as your slave father––if he could get his hands on them, he could make them better, faster, stronger…

“You,” he barked. “Recalculate the vector angles based on the Death Star’s last recorded coordinates and start counterclockwise from quadrants one, three, five, and seven. Track the pattern…” he tried to calculate the pattern. Left wing blown, force from the explosion upwards––“from the arccosine up to sixty-five degrees on a three-hundred and sixty rotation. Limit distance from the Death Star to two hundred meters.”

He turned back around and pointed at the curly-haired kid he’d seen at the spectroscopy readings. “You! Tune to plutonium readings.”

“Sir?” the officer stammered.

“Or whatever else is in proton torpedo detonation systems,” he said impatiently.

“Sir?” the officer asked again, this time frozen over her keyboard and looking up at the admiral. The deck was quiet, Lars noted belatedly. Nobody was speaking into their headsets anymore.

The admiral’s falhawk-sharp gaze caught on Lars before it snapped back to her. “Do as he says!”

She obeyed, quickly, and Lars kept an eye on the terminal. The display was fuzzy. Did every terminal on this ship need its wires realigned?

 “How do you know this?” demanded the admiral from up on the bridge.

Lars crossed his arms and turned back, only after he was sure the officer had tuned to the right lengths. “I saw the battle out the viewports.”

“And you knew it was proton torpedoes that were fired on Lord Vader?”

So he wasn’t stupid. Made sense. No other reason they’d keep a half-blind man around who hadn’t even bothered with a replacement eye.

“Explosion pattern.”

The admiral didn’t say anything else, but it wasn’t like Lars didn’t notice the seven different blasters still trained on him from the troopers.

“I’ve got a read!” the first officer suddenly cried. “Tracking a small craft a fifteen hundred klicks starboard! Forwarding to you, Drav!”

A second, then––“Readings match, Admiral. Sending them to navigation now!”

“Send two guardian-class light cruisers with two squadrons, now!” the admiral barked.

Finally.

Lars swung himself back up onto the bridge and wandered out as the bridge sprang into action, Maberust scurrying along behind him. That was done.


 Lars had been back down in the Black Squadron hangar for only two hours, hacking apart another useless calibrator, when a voice crackled over the announcement system.

“Chief Engineer to hangar one-hundred and three. I repeat, Chief Engineer to hangar one-hundred-three at the order of Admiral Montferrat.”

Lars glared up at the ceiling. Problems with Vader never ended, did they.


 Maberust followed him, which was probably good, because if he didn’t, Lars would’ve walked himself into the brig and been done with it.

Hangar 103 was at the very bottom of the belly of the Star Destroyer and had blast doors big enough to fit an army of troopers through. Probably the reason why, actually.

But the troopers were all standing nervously against the wall opposite and the admiral’s collection of uniforms were trying to hide behind them, in a little circle around the admiral. Montferrat himself had a sheen of sweat glimmering on his brow, trembling hands folded behind him, standing ten paces from the blast doors and everyone else ten paces behind him.

Lars shoved himself past the first couple stormies, who then obediently moved aside for him to face Monferrat.

Lars crossed his arms.

“Chief Engineer,” Montferrat greeted, voice wobbling like his hands. “Lord Vader has been—has been asking for you.”

Of fucking course. “What does he want?”

The stormies sounded like they were rattling out of their armor behind him. Montferrat’s pale eyes bulged like a squashed skull’s.

“He did not mention it,” Montferrat snapped. “Go in and attend to his lordship immediately!”

His lordship. Great. Lars turned to face the blast door, back to the troopers, and waited as the doors opened.

Lars stepped in, the doors snapping closed quick behind him, and scowled.

The hangar was massive, for corvettes and cruisers, not TIEs, and the entire thing had been wrecked. Maybe a hundred ships had been housed here and every single one of them looked like scrap. An entire cruiser was crumpled under a wall and had taken a couple transports with it, wings sheared off, and the wings themselves were lodged in the ceiling several hundred meters above. Lars’s hand went to his long-gone rag before he even registered the cloudy air, dusky with smoke, sparking wires, and the slow chug of pooling coolant and fuel.

He was not cleaning this up.

Something hit his boot, and Lars looked down to kick the blaster away with a skitter. An officer was mangled underneath an even worse-off ship, limbs twitching in death throes and hole in his chest. He could see his ribs.

The only ozone in the air was from blasters, not a laser sword. Looked like Vader had used his fists alone.

Lars stepped over the dead man and had to step over a couple dozen more, troopers, pilots, and officers alike, boots soaking in with blood and viscera that mixed with the marrow of split bones and sprays of scattered teeth, still-pulsing organs, and the innards of leaking shuttles.

There was barely a path to make it through the corpses of men and ships alike. Lars irritatedly had to shove a wing and half a nav system balancing precariously on a corvette’s cadaver out of his way, which ended up falling down and bisecting a dead stormtrooper beneath it, armor squeaking as it snapped in two and plunged wetly into the man’s already halved abdomen.

Ten feet beyond that, Vader, helmet bowed and hand on his sword, leaned against the hunched, disfigured frame of the TIE Advanced.

That, he’d be fixing, no doubt.

“You wanted to see me?”

Vader’s head shot up, and Lars didn’t flinch, but he had a hand on the handles of his longest and sharpest blades.

“You…” Vader rasped. It shouldn’t be making that noise. Lars glared. He’d fixed the vocoder, Vader must’ve disrupted it again. Vader flung out an arm towards the TIE Advanced, and stood up fully. “Get to work.”

Lars snarled under his breath and stalked forward, taking a vibroblade out anyway, if only so he could hack through the mutilated wings.

Lars could feel Vader’s gaze on him as he wrestled his way into the interior of the TIE, trying to find any salvage.

Half in the frame of the cockpit, which was bent entirely on its side, Lars had to drop down into the hull to get to computer systems. He knocked open the mostly-crushed casing with the butt of a wrench. The innards of the system spilled out, scattering into a thousand and one pieces at his feet.

Lars hefted himself back out onto the shell of the TIE.

“There’s nothing to fix.”

Vader sneered. “It’s there, isn’t it? Rebuild it!”

“Sure,” Lars said dryly. It’d be easier to make a new one. “If you gave me two years.”

Vader snarled wordlessly, and flung out a hand. Lars watched as a couple severed wing from somewhere deep in the back of the hangar screamed towards the ceiling and impaled themselves there, causing the lights to whimper and flicker.

“What are you here for?” Vader demanded.

“Not to be your maid,” Lars barked back. “If you want me to fix your ships, stop fucking destroying them. And––” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m not cleaning up that shit, either.”

Lars’s other hand was still on his unsheathed vibroblade, and he waited for Vader to launch himself at him. Instead, Vader stilled.

He waited, for just a moment, before he dropped back down into the cockpit, intent on scavenging the scrap of the nav system.  

“You. You have never…lied to me,” Vader said, voice echoing from somewhere outside, “betrayed me.”

“No,” he answered, sifting through the casings on the wires. The hell would he lie to Vader about, anyway? He was here to fix his ships and didn’t even want to do that.

“Face me,” Vader demanded.

Lars growled under his breath, dropped the wires, and heaved himself back up out of the turned-over cockpit.

“What.”

Vader was swaying, slightly, but Lars couldn’t see any damage to his gyroscopic stabilizers.

“Tatooine,” Vader said, and if Lars blinked, he could see twin suns behind his eyes. “On Tatooine, did you know of a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi?”

“No.” He hadn’t known much of anyone on Tatooine, and hadn’t wanted to, but––it struck––Luke come with me––“Kenobi.”

“Yes.” Vader moved forward, towards him, almost eager, nearly towering over him, control box at his eye level.

“There was an old man named Ben Kenobi who lived on the edge of the Jundland Wastes.”

“Did he live with anyone else?” Vader demanded. Lars watched warily, out of the corner of his eye, as his hand raised and then clenched, like he was trying to grasp something. “A boy?”

“I don’t know,” Lars said. Vader’s vocoder made a strange sound, like a cross between a snarl and growl, and Lars snapped: “How the hell would I know? I saw him twice, maybe.”

And hid the other times––COWARD.

And?” snarled Vader.

“He was a crazy old man who everyone thought was a wizard,” Lars said, flat. “If he lived out in the Wastes, any family’s dead.”

Vader’s voice came out strained and shades away from a roar. “I did not say family.

Lars’s fist tightened around the blade. Come with me––step away––“And.”

Vader stood still a second longer, then pulled away.

“Report to my quarters in one full day cycle with the coordinates ready.”

“You taking me back to Tatooine?” Lars called at his retreating back.

Vader didn’t answer, and left him alone in the makeshift morgue.

Kenobi, Lars repeated to himself. And almost said sorry, but that was a long time past for the both of them. A couple years ago he even would have said serves him right.