“This was a bad idea,” Ben said, reaching up to shift some of the dangling wires out of the way.
The fighter was too low for him to sit up without cracking his head on the belly, and too high to reach through the acceleration compensator port while lying on his back. It meant that to try to do this repair he pretty much was hunching and contorting himself so he could get the welding and soldering finished.
Didn’t help at all that the compensator had a million wires that needed to be detached before he did the repair and now needed to be soldered back one by one. X-wings were the biggest pain in the ass when they came to maintenance. He shouldn’t have ever even started this damn repair.
A series of questioning beeps came from off to the side, a silver and blue sphere rolling into his peripheral view. He smiled, shaking his head as he singled out another wire and carefully found the correct contact to attach it to. “Thanks, Endy, but there’s not much you can do to help.”
The droid chattered while he soldered the wire in place.
“Yes, I know you can, but acceleration compensators are too fragile for astromech repairs. Only humans or V7 class repair droids are supposed to work on these things.” Putting the soldering iron down, he leaned backwards, arms behind him for support as he stretched his back out. “Judging from the metal searing, that’s probably how this bitch got fractured to begin with. Someone just set a droid on it without bothering to read the specifications.”
ND-7B’s blue head came into view as it rotated down his body, peering at Ben with his front optic sensor. The droid’s was a flat headed BB unit, with a small notch removed from the left side of his head where some amatuer had added a modulating frequency antenna. It rotated, a small curved piece of metal, at the end of a 4 inch durasteel rod.
Whoever had done the mod had done a shit job. It was amazing that the antenna even worked.
Endy let out a defensive beep and Ben laughed again, “I’m sure it wasn’t you.” He sighed, looking up at the dangling tangle of wires. It was going to take hours to get this thing back together.
“You tearing our ships apart again, Solo?”
Ben rolled his eyes, scooting out from under the fighter. Wincing at the pins and needles in his legs he pulled himself to his feet up. Poe Dameron was in his flight suit and must have just gotten back to D’Qar from whatever mission he’d been on. “Cracking them open is kind of necessary to fix them, Dameron.”
Poe leaned against the side of the X-Wing while Ben brushed dirt off his pants. The blue nylar pants and white maloshet shirt were too nice for this sort of work, but none of the standard issue Resistance maintenance coveralls fit him. His mother insisted on buying him clothes, all of them of far finer material than the duranex coveralls.
Not that he should complain, they were a lot more comfortable than his old sackcloth robes. But he couldn't help but feel guilty when he got them dirty.
“Such a waste.” Poe shook his head.
“I’m pretty sure patching a damaged compensator instead of just replacing the damn thing is the opposite of a waste.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
Ben raked a hand through his black hair and shrugged, “Yeah well.”
“Six years now and she’s still keeping you chained to the base.” Poe shook his head, “Maintenance? You’re a pilot. A fighter. We need people like you out there with us.”
“It’s not a big deal.” He reached down, collecting his tools to put them back in his bag. “I’m not even sure if I’m going to keep sticking around. My dad keeps trying to get me to come and give him and Chewy a hand.”
“Oh hell.” Poe huffed, folding his arms across his chest.
“Look, not like I have any disrespect for Han—”
Ben rolled his eyes, picking his bag up and heading towards the barracks. His back was killing him and he needed a break from the bullshit.
Poe took several bounding steps to cut him off, spreading his hands, “You know the shit he’s doing isn’t legal, right?”
“The shit you’re doing here? The shit the Resistance is doing? You know it isn’t legal, right?” Ben parroted back.
“It’s different.” Poe pointed his finger in Ben’s face. “This—there’s a lot of remnants of the Empire still out there.”
“I’m aware,” he pushed Poe’s hand away, fighting the urge to punch him. Nothing pissed him off worse than someone getting in his face. He took a deep breath, calming himself as he shouldered his way past Poe. “My mother talks about it constantly.”
“Okay, okay.” Poe followed on Ben’s heels. “Calm down.”
“Plenty calm.” He kept walking, looking straight ahead.
“I’m going to talk to her. About you.”
That brought him to a halt, rolling his shoulders in an exasperated sigh as he turned around. “Don’t. Just don’t.”
“We need you. You belong with the Resistance."
Ben rolled his eyes, looking up over Poe’s shoulder as the man kept talking. There was a ship coming in, an older model X-Wing. He watched it as it came closer as Poe rambled on about how important the Resistance's main directive was.
It didn’t look like one from the Resistance’s fleet. Too old. It did look familiar though, oddly familiar. Like—
His eyes widened as he felt a presence that was also very familiar.
“The hell are you doing here?” he muttered nervously under his breath.
“What?” Poe asked, looking confused.
“Nothing,” Ben turned and headed towards the barracks. “It’s nothing. I need to go lay down. Just leave me alone, Poe.”
“I’m going to talk to her,” Poe called after him.
“Do whatever you want.” Ben raised his voice but didn’t look back. “Just leave me the hell alone.”
The barracks, like most of the base outside the landing strips, was in part of the underground ruins the Resistance had claimed and retrofitted into something useable. Walls and floors of ancient stone were covered with roots from the forests that grew above. Bunks were evenly spaced in open rows, offering no real privacy. Utility and maximization of space took precedence over comfort and privacy.
After tucking his bag under his low bunk, he rolled himself onto the bed. It was too small for him, his feet hung off the end and he had to press his arms to his side to keep them from dangling down the sides. He stared at the bottom of the upper bunk, taking a shaky breath and closing his eyes.
It was nothing. Six years had past and it wasn’t like he’d tried to contact him over any of those. Probably here for something else, some business with his mom. There was no need for this impending feeling of dread, right? It was pretty clear between them that he wanted nothing to do with him anymore.
Ben snorted, pulling his pillow out from behind his head and using it to cover his eyes. Luke had never given a shit about what someone else wanted if it got in the way of what he thought he needed.
He pulled the pillow fully over his face, muffling stream of curses he was uttering into it.
Footsteps came closer, “Solo! Organa wants you in her office.”
When he didn’t move, the steps kept approaching, pausing next to his bunk. The metal creaked and the bed shifted as the person leaned against it.
Sighing he pulled the pillow down past his eyes. Snap was leaning against the top bunk, looking down, one eyebrow raised in a mixture of exasperation and amusement.
“Your mother would like to see you.”
“Why?” He spoke, voice muffled into the pillow.
“Don’t know.” Snap shrugged. “Or care?”
Ben rolled his eyes and tossed the pillow so it bounced off Snap’s torso before falling to the floor. Groaning, he sat up, sitting awkwardly on the side of the bunk.
“I’m like the seventh person who got passed the message to go tell you.” Snap stepped back to give Ben room to get up. “I heard a visitor was on base. Someone who flew in an old fighter.”
Getting to his feet, Ben heaved a sigh, crossing his arms.
Snap punched him lightly on the shoulder before turning to walk away, “Don’t keep mommy waiting, Benny.”
“Fuck you,” Ben called, drawing out the vowels of each word. Snap waved a hand behind him in response, not bothering to look back.
Rubbing a hand across his face, he took a deep breath, closing his eyes and concentrating on calming his nerves. A few minutes took the worst of the edge off his anxiety, which was probably the best he could hope for right now.
Taking one last deep breath, he headed back down the length of the barracks towards the command center.
“There you are,” Leia said as he slipped through the door to her office, waving him to the chair next to her.
He hesitated, his eyes resting on the man sitting in the chair opposite her and shifting his jaw. Luke looked older than he remembered him, more weathered. He also looked horrible— pale, face bruised and covered with healing scrapes, a bandage wrapped around his flesh hand. A wood crutch leaned against the chair he was sitting on, and he sat with one leg bandaged and splinted leg stretched out in front of him.
“Hello, Ben,” Luke said, calmly. Face emotionless and blue eyes unreadable.
Swallowing down the lump in his throat, he walked over to stand behind the chair his mother had motioning to. His hands gripped the back of the chair tightly as he looked up to meet his uncle’s eyes. “You look like shit.”
Leia’s voice was sharp, scolding. He ignored it, “The temple’s bacta budget run out or something?”
The emotionless facade Luke was wearing broke as he let out a snorting laugh, gripping his side and wincing, clearly finding laughing painful. Shifting in his seat Luke gave Ben a grimacing smile, “No, we got plenty. But apparently the vibroblade that carved me up a bit was coated in bactacide”
“Some kind of chemical agent that kills bacta on contact, rendering it useless for healing.” Luke nodded at Ben’s raised eyebrows, “Yeah, we didn’t know something like that existed either. The medics think it’s going to eventually wear out of my system, but until then I’m going to have to heal without the help.” He motioned to the chair in front of Ben, “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“Why don’t you tell me why I’m here first?”
“Ben!” He could feel Leia’s withering glare, and made the mistake of turning to meet her eyes. Suddenly he felt like he was eight years old and had been caught tracking mud through the house. She raised her eyebrows and pointed to the chair. “Sit. Down.”
Shifting his gaze to look at the ceiling, he took a deep breath and then did as he was told.
“Thank you,” his mother said, bending down to pull a datapad out of a bag and handing it over to him. “The last five or six months we’ve been tracking what appears to be a new, or rather new to us, Imperial remnant in the unknown regions.”
Not sure where this was going, Ben opened the datapad files and thumbed through the contents. Reports of several incidents. Attacks on outposts. Vessels gone missing under suspicious circumstances.
“We don’t know who they are, but they appear to be well organized, and well supplied, with manufacturing capabilities for ships, armor, and weaponry.”
He pressed a button and a poor quality holo capture of a soldier in red stormtrooper armor popped up. “Red. Classy.”
“This is something the Resistance is taking quite seriously, Ben,” Leia scolded.
Looking up, Ben glanced at Luke and then back to his mother, “I’m afraid I don’t see what this has to do with me?”
“Lor San Tekka is dead.”
Ben turned his head sharply to look at Luke, who was studying his bandaged hand. When he looked up again, his eyes belied the flat expression on his face, filled with grief, sadness, and maybe even fear. “There was an attack on the village of Tuanal, on Jakku, where he’s been living the last few years.”
San Tekka hadn’t exactly been a friend, or a mentor, but Ben had always liked the man. He couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of the man being gone. When he was a kid he’d even looked up to the old relic hunter.
“You think they were behind the attack?” he waved the datapad.
“There were two transports of the classy troopers, so yes, it’s safe to say it was them.”
“You were there?”
Luke raised his eyebrows in that way of his, the way that implied only a total idiot would ask that question. He glanced down at his leg and then back to Ben, tilting his head as if silently asking if Ben thought he’d gotten his injuries while guiding meditation back at the temple.
Ten minutes back in Luke’s presence and he already was feeling completely inadequate. The man just had an amazing talent for creating those emotions.
He dropped the datapad onto his lap, “I still don’t understand what this has to do with me.”
“Lor had been on the trail of something. A legend from the old texts— a Sith homeworld.”
“Another?” Ben waved his hand dismissively. Korriban. Moraband. At some point maybe they needed stop calling them Sith homeworlds and just call them Sith worlds.
“Yes,” Luke didn’t hide the irritation creeping into his voice. “But different. The legends say Exegol was the heart of the Sith’s war machine during the Great War. All the secrets and perversions of science the Sith knew were researched there. Lor suspected it would be a tomb of ancient weapons, relics, and information. The potential, and danger, of the place is great.” Luke shook his head, reaching up with his gloved, mechanical hand to tap a finger against his lips. “A colleague of Lor’s believed he’d found a piece of a map of hyperspace points that would lead to this planet. The outpost he was living on was attacked a few days after he passed the artifact to Lor.”
“By this same imperial remnant?”
“That’s when Lor contacted me, because he was afraid someone else was after it. I was at Tuanal getting it from him when the attack came. I barely was able to escape with it.”
Ben frowned as he glanced between Luke and his mother, “Not to sound like a droid with its voice matrix stuck in a loop, but what does this have to do with me?”
“Luke believes there’s at least one more additional map fragment out there.” Leia explained, flicking her eyes over at Luke in an uneasy way. “And that there are clues to how to find it on a planet in the Expansion Region. He’s asked for the Resistance’s help in trying to find it.”
He couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of him as he looked between his uncle and his mother. “And the Resistance help is me?”
“Ben,” Leia sighed quietly.
“No.” He got to his feet, “I can’t even believe—”
Now her voice was scolding, chastising. It was fuel thrown on the growing flames of irritation. He turned, waving a finger at Leia, “Six years. Six. I’ve been here and you’ve made sure I’ve never left this base doing anything related to the Resistance. Now he shows up and suddenly you’re just fine with—”
Leia got to her feet and he snapped his mouth shut, fighting the urge to step back as she came close, glaring up into his face and pointing over towards the door, “A word.”
Swallowing, he followed her when she turned and lead him across the room. She stopped in front of the door, turning and glaring at him as he shifted his weight from foot to foot.
“Look,” she began, her voice low to keep the conversation private. “I don’t—”
“You can’t even pretend you would be sending me out if he wasn’t the one asking,” he snapped, trying to keep his own voice low.
The look she gave him as she crossed her arms across her chest could have melted durasteel. He cringed, looking down, as she spoke began again, “I don’t know what happened between you and your uncle. And frankly? I don’t care.” Ben cast her a glance and then looked away. “That’s why I never asked. You had a falling out, it’s unfortunate. Whatever.”
He rolled his eyes up to look at the ceiling and huffed.
“And you’re right, I’d much rather it not be you, but Luke is adamant that he needs you to do this.”
“Always willing to give him what he wants.” Always. She had always given in to Luke when he pushed her. It didn’t matter what he had wanted. Or what Dad had wanted. Or even what she had wanted. Luke always was able to get her to give into him.
Leia stepped closer and he resisted the urge to step back. Her hand reached up, cupping his face. “There’s not a lot that scares me, Ben. But this remnant? Whoever they are? They scare me. They’re organized, well armed, and well equipped. And they managed that while remaining unnoticed till now. If they’re looking for something, I want to be sure they don’t find it.”
There was a thump across the room. Luke had hauled himself to his feet and was limping over to the room’s one window. He stopped there and looked out into the distance in thought.
“I need you to go do this for me. Not for Luke. For me.” Leia raised her eyebrows and pushed his chin up to force him to meet her eyes. “Okay?”
He shifted his jaw, swallowing and giving a curt nod. Fine. For her.
“Leia, could I speak to Ben alone?” Luke asked, still gazing out the window.
“Of course,” Leia reached out and squeezed Ben’s shoulder. “I actually need to go touch base with Ackbar. I’ll be back in ten minutes or so.”
The door click as it shut behind her seemed far louder than it should have been. He took a step back, and leaned against the wall next to the door. It was stupid, but being near the exit made him feel better.
For at least a minute, Luke said nothing, he just kept staring out the window at the landing strips outside.
“You didn’t tell her.” Luke said, finally. “Why you left the temple, you didn’t tell her.”
“What makes you so sure I didn’t?”
Luke turned, awkwardly hopping on his one good leg while leaning on the crutch. Tilting his head and shrugging as he met Ben’s eyes. “I don’t have a broken nose to top off the rest of this.”
Ben laughed, maybe slightly bitterly. Luke just gave a rueful smile and hobbled back over to his chair.
“You should have talked to me before you left.” Luke sighed. “I could have… or at least I could have tried…”
Ben looked up at the ceiling, “I was asleep—”
“I understand the confusion.”
“—and I woke up—”
“And that I was not behaving sensibly…”
“You were standing over me, holding a lit lightsaber.”
Luke gave a surprisingly sheepish shrug, sitting down hard in the chair. He propped the crutch between his legs. “Not my best moment.”
“Not your best moment ? Threatening to kill me for no reason in the middle of the night? You’re lucky I hadn’t panicked and tried to defend myself!”
“I wasn’t threatening to kill you.”
Ben shook his head, “Oh, did you just randomly walk into my room at night and hold a lit saber over me to see me better?”
“I saw… a vision… a premonition, I don’t know,” Luke rubbed his chin, wincing as he touched a bruise. “And reacted, impulsively, for a moment.”
“Okay, just so you know, pretty sure talking to you wouldn’t have stopped me from leaving.”
“I’d seen the darkness in you, Ben. Raw strength. Power. And good, understand I’ve always see that there is so much good in you— but also I’d seen the anger, resentment, even hate. Those dark threads, they run through you, and they scared me.”
“Yeah, really wouldn’t have helped.”
Luke tilted his head, annoyed, “Just let me finish.”
“Oh, by all means, continue.”
“I went that night— and I shouldn’t have, I know, I shouldn’t have— but because I was worried, I just wanted to look into your head and try to understand what was going on with you. And when I did, I had a vision of death and destruction— a ruin of everything I’ve ever loved and worked to build.”
“By me.” Ben couldn’t keep the exasperation out of his voice.
“It felt real. Like an omen and I just…” Luke looked down, watching the crutch as he slowly turned it. “I reacted.” He looked up again and raised his hand, speaking faster, “Just for a moment. Only a moment. Then it passed.”
“So, you went to look into my mind— without my permission, let’s just make a note of that part of this— then hallucinated I was going to destroy everything, then… what? Thought about killing me and lit your lightsaber?”
“When you put it like that it does sound really bad.” Luke bobbed his head from side to side, “I guess talking probably wouldn’t have helped.”
“You’re crazy. You do realize that?”
“It was just an impulse. I came to my senses horrified with myself, that I could, even for that fraction of a second, have thought—”
Ben cut him off, “Can we stop talking about this? Because I really think we need to stop talking about it.”
“I’m sorry, Ben.”
“Yeah, right, I’m sure you are. You thought about killing me in my sleep, but you’re sorry, so it’s okay.”
Luke gave him a look, “I haven’t figured out if you got your sarcastic streak from spending your formative years with me or just genetically inherited it from Han, but either way it’s really unnecessary now.”
A muscle twitched under Ben’s eye and he looked away, closing his eyes. Deep breaths, find your center and calm your nerves. Once he felt them settle enough, he opened his eyes again and met Luke’s gaze. “Are we done?”
“No.” Luke shook his head, expression growing more grave. “I have more to tell you about Tuanal.”
“You were there, there was an attack, there were red Stormtroopers, San Tekka was killed. What more do I need to know?”
“There were more than just the stormtroopers. There were, others. And a girl.”
“A strong one,” Luke snipped, waving Ben towards him. “It’ll be easier if you let me show you.”
“So apparently the last time you were in my head you freaked out and nearly killed me—” Ben frowned, tapping one of his feet on the floor.
“Ben, just—” Luke took a deep breath, held it a moment, and then exhaled. He continued, sounding much calmer, “Please. You need to understand.”
“Fine.” He walked over to Luke, kneeling down so Luke could press a hand against his temple. There was pressure, a push, and then the memory began to replay in his mind.
He was just past the outskirts of the village, getting his X-Wing ready to leave. Artoo is already latched in, running the pre-flight preparations. He had the artifact— a data stick, a very old one, judging by the design. Once they were back at the temple they would analyze it and see if it really was as important as Lor thought.
The sound of the engines drowned out any noise the incoming transports would have made. It isn’t until Artoo lets out an alarmed beep that he realizes that there are ships coming.
Too late. By the time he scrambles down from the X-Wing, yelling to Artoo to keep the ship running. Too late. He doesn’t even make it back into the village before its overrun with troopers. Blood red troopers.
There’s a full on battle and villagers are dying.
It’s mayhem. He reaches the edges of the battle, unlit lightsaber in hand. A pair of troopers raise their blasters at him and he raises his hand and uses the force to throw them like rag dolls as he lights his saber. Batting away blaster bolts and directing them back into the troopers firing them. Buildings are burning. Smoke, blood, blaster fire.
As he Something else. There’s something else. Cold.
He looks across the village to see a third transport landing. It’s hatch opening like a gaping mouth hissing smoke. A gaping mouth that unleashes hell itself.
They’re are maybe a dozen of them, spilling out down the ramp. Dressed in black armor, faces covered by masked black helmets of different shapes and designs, carrying weapons far more brutal than blasters. Vibroblades and axes, spears, pikes. Melee weapons that are quickly and efficiently put to use. They carve their way through villagers, not caring if their target is fighting or fleeing.
It’s hard to tell for sure, and it’s not like it matters, but he gets the impression that they’re female.
He starts fighting his way towards them as another figure appears from the fog of hovering around the ramp of the transport. This one is smaller, wearing a dark robe and hood. She walks down through the battle, unaffected by the carnage and chaos.
Two of the masked ones emerge from a hut, dragging Lor out between them. He grits his teeth and tries to get over to help his friend.
But he doesn’t get far before an axe nearly takes his head off. He ducks just in time, the blade skimming his hair, and backflips to get some space from his attacker.
Her mask appears to be designed to look like a skull. He raises his hand and tries to throw her back with the force—
She manages to block it, only stumbling back a step, and then lunging forward to attack. He blocks skullface’s axe with his saber, green sparks shooting off the lightsaber resistant metal of the shaft where it connects with his blade.
In his peripheral, he can see Lor being thrown down on his knees in front of the robed one.
His attacker catches him distracted and uses it to slam an elbow into his face. He curses and manages to land a kick to skullface’s stomach, knocking her back and managing to unlock their blades.
He makes another attempt to get over to Lor, but doesn’t get far. Skullface leaps into his path.
The robed figure lowers her hood, revealing a girl— barely a young woman by her looks. Her face looks delicate, almost soft. Long brown hair has complicated braids along the side that merge into one braid that appears to run down her back, the end hidden in the folds of her hood.
The masked ones that had dragged Lor out notice him. One of them, her mask just a long, flat surface broken only by an eye slit, draws a vibrosword and comes to skullface’s aid.
Two on one does not go well. The fight is a blur and he’s not coming out on top. Blankface is a much better fighter than skullface. She lands a grazing blow across his side and he can feel the blood soaking the sides of his robes.
He can’t see him, but he hears Lor screaming.
Skullface lands a jab with the staff of her axe right to the chest. He stumbles back a step, dropping to the ground to avoid blankface’s blade. Rolling he leaps to his feet, spins, and manages to impale skullface on his saber. Her axe falls to the sand. She follows after he rips his blade free.
Blankface seems pissed about her colleagues demise, she comes at him with renewed rage, driving him back, and pummeling him when their blades lock. He manages to break from one lock and tries to spin away to create some distance to maneuver, but as he goes her blade slashes through the front of his thigh and he falls, losing his saber. Blankface wastes no time and is upon him. He rolls, narrowly dodging her blade as it comes down, ignoring the pain of the sand now getting into his open wounds. His hand hits something hard— skullface’s vibroaxe. He grabs it and swings as blankface strikes at him.
It connects where her shoulder meets her neck. She staggers, her vibrosword falling from her hand before collapses.
A shriek cuts through deafening rush of blood in his ears. He turns his head to see the girl, facing him now, teeth bared and hands clenched. Lor is on his hands and knees at her feet, head bowed and breathing hard.
She pulls something off her belt, but it isn’t until the flickering, unstable red blades, two of them side by side, leap from it that he even realizes it’s a lightsaber of some sort. She flicks her wrist and the second blade swings away from the first, the hits snapping together to form a saberstaff.
Without breaking eye contact with him, she raises the staff up and slams the lower blade through Lor’s back, the blade exploding from the front of his chest.
He screams now in his own rage, hand opening and calling his own saber to him. Adrenaline and anger giving him the strength to get back to his feet.
She rips the blade free, slicing a gash through Lor’s torso, and charges as he ignites his saber. Their blades cross in a rain of green and red sparks. Her expression is absolutely feral, bared teeth like some kind of animal, face contorted with rage.
“He gave it to you,” she snarls, landing a kick to the open wound on his thigh. He stumbles back and nearly falls.
The artifact. It was in his bag back in the X-Wing.
The girl nearly impales him, but he is able to freeze her for just a split second, enough for him to dodge out of the way. It enrages her, and she throws her hand up and he’s sent flying before he could even try to block.
He lands in a heap, rolling back, realizing she’d thrown him the direction of his X-Wing. He rolls to his knees and hits her hard with the force. Sending her stumbling backwards and giving him more time. Getting to his feet, channeling the force for the strength. He runs.
She’s after him, but he has a head start, and he somehow gets himself to his ship and into the cockpit. He opens fire with the X-Wing’s guns while he revs the thrusters. She has to dodge and block the bolts, giving him just enough time to get off the ground.
The memory fades. Ben’s still on his knees, heart pounding and chest heaving as if he’d been the one who’d just been through the fight.
“Who the hell was that?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” Luke answered. He sounded calm, but that calmness didn’t make it to his eyes, which were tense and sharp. “All I know is that if Exegol exists, I want to be sure they sure as hell never find it.”