Click on symbol for a
description of the era
Click on the
to go that particular era
This long lost novel, commissioned and approved by
Lucasfilm, and set to be released in 1993, disappeared without a
trace. For many years fans wondered what became of the book and why
it was never published, and so it was chalked up as yet another tragic "lostworlds"
story that no one would ever get to read or enjoy... or so we thought!
Kenneth C. Flint's complete novel The Heart of the Jedi has at last been
unearthed! Published here in four chapter installments, it has been edited
to fit into the existing Expanded Universe, taking place a short time
after The Truce at Bakura and the end of issue #107 of the Marvel
series, but before the X-Wing comic-book series. For a
biography of the author, click
here. For the behind-the-scenes
history of the book, go
* Note the cover mockup was made
by me based on an image from artist Paul Shipper. No copyright
infringement is intended or implied. For a look at all of Paul's
amazing artwork, please go to his page
The Heart of the Jedi
Darth Vader and the Emperor are no more.
The Alliance has officially become the New
As Han Solo, Princess Leia and new Chief-of-State
emerge triumphant against the diminishing Empire,
the Imperial Remnant
fights on until the long-silent Imperial Senate
rises up to call for peace. But not
everyone wants peace, and High Admiral Tharkus
has made plans to ensure the Empire
will reemerge under his rule. At his side stands
of rare and
deadly powers! For Luke Skywalker, exhausted from
years of fighting, the time has come to depart
upon a journey of discovery, a journey that will
lead him to a secret long ago hidden by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
PART ONE: Chapters 1-4
BEHIND THE SCENES
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
Kenneth C. Flint
other books at:
author Facebook page at:
This book is
for my two sons, Devin Cormac Flint and Gavin Donal Flint.
15, was born the year the first Star Wars was released and has been
a loyal fan ever since. I especially wish to acknowledge his invaluable
contributions to the creation of this story. His ideas were most
imaginative ones, and I know that someday he will become as fine a writer
as he hopes to be.
nine-year-old’s imagination also knows no bounds in time and space. He has
made his own excellent contributions to the writing of this book. He was
also one of the best Indiana Joneses I’ve ever seen (hat, leather coat,
whip and all) on Halloween.
silence of that planetless sector of space was pierced through with the
sizzling noise of laser fire as a huge craft glided suddenly into view.
It was a
Victory-class Star Destroyer of the Empire, and it was engaged in a savage
battleship was a massive, sharply angled wedge of metal. The keen
spear-tip of its long prow thrust far into the empty dark ahead. The sides
of its broadening hull bristled with rows of turbolaser batteries.
all firing frantically now, spewing out a blazing network of ruby colored
bolts. But those bolts were not directed at some target ahead. They were
all being fired toward the rear, and other bolts of a brilliant emerald
hue were being returned, crisscrossing the Imperial fire.
And then the
source of this other fire hove into view close astern. The Star Destroyer
was not giving chase. It was being hotly pursued.
was an MC80 Liberty type Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, another
battleship, but one of pelagic design with a blistered oval hull.
organic-looking and well-designed craft in contrast with the hard-edged
bulk of the Imperial ship, it was still a fair opponent for the other
In fact, as the two dreadnoughts sailed on, locked in furious battle, it
became quickly obvious that the Star Destroyer was vastly overmatched. The
intersecting exchanges of broadsides that wove a brilliant latticework
across the blackness caused many more blooming flashes of hits upon the
Imperial than on its foe. And the pursuer was slowly but relentlessly
The frequency of its hits was soon creating a constant fireworks display
across the Star Destroyer’s sides and rear. They were inflicting much
damage, destroying systems and power supplies, their accumulated effect
crippling the Imperial ship.
A particularly well-aimed bolt from the hunter’s forward battery struck
home squarely on the rear of its prey’s upthrusting command tower. A great
flower of sparks erupted there as the strike’s impact shook the whole
superstructure. Within it, on the ship’s main bridge, the dark-uniformed
command crew was sent reeling.
Its captain, a lean and hawk-nosed man, grabbed the edge of a console
barely in time to keep himself from falling. Face flushed as much by
frustration as by rage, he turned to shout out at his crew:
“Where are those shields? Full power to the bridge shields!”
Another, younger officer stepped up to him. “Captain, they are
overreaching us,” he said in a voice that could not hide his alarm. “Their
fire is breaking through. We cannot win.”
The Captain turned to him in disbelief.
“You suggest we surrender, Commander?” he snarled out. “To that scum? You
sound a coward, man. Back to your post! Keep all fire at maximum!”
The young officer, clearly stung by the rebuke, snapped a salute and
wheeled away, but staggered as yet another, even more massive laser strike
rocked the craft.
Outside, the entire stern of the great warship was engulfed in a
spectacular blossom of flaming debris, spreading outward from the
explosion of the ship’s central engine cone. The intense fire of the
attacker had found a vital point at last.
On the Imperial’s bridge, a second junior officer checked the damage
report on his view screens and looked to his captain in consternation.
“Captain, our main drive systems have failed!” he reported. “We’re losing
The young commander consulted the indicators on his own console. A
rearview monitor above him showed the pursuing ship, its size swelling
very fast now as it moved in.
“They’re closing, sir!” he all but shouted to the captain in his fear.
“Grappling beams are locking on!”
The captain’s face drew into grim but determined lines as he rapped out
the ominous order: “Prepare to repel boarders!”
Through the stark, grey corridors of the Imperial ship the harsh sound of
a klaxon blared. From everywhere at once swarms of armed men swiftly
appeared, forming a swirling torrent of black-uniformed crewmen and
white-armored stormtroopers, all rushing purposefully through the ship to
their assigned positions.
While they moved to defensive spots within, without the attacking warship
was drawing close. It slid up alongside the Star Destroyer which was now
little more than drifting ahead in space. Soon it was running parallel,
the side hulls of the two craft only a few hundred yards apart, their
turbolaser batteries still exchanging pounding barrages of fire. The
overwhelming majority of that fire, however, was coming from the
attacker’s side. By this time many of the Imperial guns had been blasted
to silence. Their few answering bolts were all but ineffectual.
The hunter matched speeds with its prey, seeming for a moment to hang
suspended, motionless beside the other ship. Then it began to slip
sideways, closing the gap between.
Inside the Star Destroyer, the troopers and crewmen were reaching their
positions. One company formed up in a corridor’s end before a large outer
bulkhead door. They moved into a defensive perimeter, creating a
formidable barrier, the heavier armed stormtroopers at the front.
Not far beyond the wall they faced, the side of the attacker’s ship was
just drawing within a few score yards of theirs. As it did so, its
turbolaser batteries fell abruptly silent.
At the same moment, several round hatches spaced along the sleek curve of
the ship’s hull slid open. From within, menacing looking appendages popped
forth and grew rapidly outward, swelling into long, flexible conduits
which stretched across like monstrous, groping tentacles to touch, then
grab onto the Imperial ship’s side.
As one of them made contact right atop an outer door, the troopers and
crew now poised in defensive perimeter within it heard the loud “clang” of
the conduit locking on. They all looked sharply toward the sound.
Apprehension showed briefly in the faces of some of the crew. But all
quickly steeled themselves and prepared for battle. Blasters were raised
and held ready. The click of safeties being snapped off and the rising hum
of weapons being loaded sounded loud in the narrow space.
For a dozen tense heartbeats the ready men stared expectantly at the
But, in the next instant, the door was gone, blown inward by a compact but
efficient explosion that rent it to flaring debris and sent smoke
billowing forward, filling the corridor.
The Imperials winced back from the blast but stood stalwartly fast,
peering through the pall of smoke into the new blackness behind the ragged
Figures appeared there, only vague shadows at first. One moved forward.
The first defenders, the stormtroopers, began to fire, their bolts angling
into the roiling grey.
In response, an odd, angry buzzing sound suddenly arose. At the same time
a short, green beam of light came into being, one figure sweeping it
around within the smoke, swinging out to parry the blaster shots with
astounding speed, sending them bouncing away.
The troopers stared, ceased firing, momentarily nonplussed.
In the brief lull the one figure acted, rushing forward from the smoke
into full view. It was a man in jet-black uniform, a helmet with lowered
blast-visor over his head.
He leaped swiftly and agilely into the first rank of the waiting troopers,
The long blade of green light he held swung about from side-to-side with
great swiftness and unerring aim, drawing glowing arcs in the hazy air,
crackling with power as it struck opponents, slashing some foes down,
throwing the rest into a panic.
Other helmeted figures clad in light blue began to pour through the breech
behind the first, firing about with blasters at the rest of the
now-disorganized defenders. A few stormtroopers tried to stand their
ground but were shot down. The others turned and ran.
The boarding party clambered across the bodies of the slain and started in
pursuit, the black-clad one at their head. As they began their push into
the body of the ship, other doors in the outer bulwarks were being blown
at several points, and other companies of soldiers were pouring in to
engage the Imperial crew in vicious combat.
The separate parties of boarders blasted their way along the ship’s
corridors, smashing any resistance. Hundreds of Imperials were soon
streaming through the ship in wild retreat, knocking down each other in
the panic, trampling on helpless little cubes of service droids that
squealed fearfully as they tried to scramble from the way.
At a central point where many corridors joined, several of the streams
became a massive flood, pouring away to more remote, safer innards of the
ship. From two of the corridors pursuing groups of the boarders appeared,
driving the fleeing men ahead of them at a full charge, all but colliding
together at the crossing point.
The black-clad leader with the blade of light gave a quick wave of
greeting to the second group. Then he led their combined force on in the
On the Imperial bridge, panic reigned. The young commander, now openly
gripped by his fear, stepped up to his senior officer.
“Captain, they’re routing our men.” he said in a quavering voice. “They’re
moving through the ship with great speed. I suggest we…”
But before he could complete his suggestion, the shrill, sharp whistle of
blaster fire sounded from beyond the main entrance to the bridge.
The two men jerked around to see a stormtrooper stumbling back through the
doorway, chest smoking from a blaster strike. Other troopers and crewman
began to pour through, shooting behind them, followed onto the bridge by
the flicking tongues of returned blaster fire.
The Imperials had not even time to mount a new defense inside the door
before the boarding warriors were shouldering their way through the
opening. Troopers and crewmen could only scramble for shelter behind
equipment and control consoles.
Still, fired by final desperation, they mounted a spirited resistance from
there. A wild and deadly melee erupted on the bridge as the attackers
poured in, spreading out to engage. The trapped Imperials fought on
doggedly, throwing up a blinding wall of fire. Great numbers of their
blaster bolts struck home on the invading enemy.
Many combatants fell on both sides. Bodies scorched and limbs severed by
the energy blasts were strewn thickly across the pebbled metal floor.
Errant shots struck controls, equipment, monitors, and machines, raising
explosions of sparks and fire.
Through the chaos moved the Imperial captain, evading blaster shots and
falling men, crawling behind the shelter of his command console and
crouching there. Beside him, the young commander crouched too, but rising
at times to fire his hand blaster out at their enemies.
For a time there seemed to be stalemate.
Then the one in black wielding the blade of light moved out from the rest.
He advanced into the center of the room with seeming recklessness,
parrying blaster fire to strike out at the stubborn defenders with
No defense could stop him. No shot could reach him. In a few bloody
moments only a handful of Imperials was left.
The commander lifted up to try for a shot, but was hit by one of the
attackers. He crumpled, dropping his blaster. His captain saw the weapon,
seized it, and rose into view.
Halfway across the bridge deck from him stood the figure with the blade of
light. Warrior and captain saw each other at the same time.
“Surrender!” the black-clad one called to him. The captain drew himself up
“To you?” he spat back contemptuously. “Never!”
His hand swung the blaster up to point and he opened fire,
His hasty first shot went wide of the dark figure, but it did strike a
blue-uniformed one moving up behind. The blast hit his chest square on,
its force lifting the soldier and slamming him down.
Before the captain could fire again, the black-clad one hurled his glowing
It flew swiftly, with a rolling hum of sound as it spun end-over-end,
flashing to its goal so fast that the captain hadn’t even time to flinch.
It struck with a bright flare of power, the blade of light slashing down
through the man from shoulder blade to heart. His smoking corpse toppled
limply to the deck.
A great stillness fell suddenly upon the bridge.
The battle was ended, the last defenders down. The victors stood weltering
amidst the awful wreckage of sprawled bodies and blasted controls.
The black-uniformed man strode forward, his boots on the metal deck
clanking loud in the quiet. He bent down over the dead captain’s body to
take up the glowing weapon that lay beside it.
For a long moment the warrior stood motionless, the lethal blade of light
in hand, looking much a figure of great and terrible power there,
surrounded by the sparks and smoke and dead of that hellish room.
Then he turned, swinging around toward the group of his fellow warriors
who stood watching him.
With a “snap” the blade of light went off, shrinking in an instant into
its metal hilt. The hands of the warrior lifted toward his head. They
grasped his helmet, lifting it free of the head that had been shielded
The features revealed were those of Luke Skywalker.
face, though still youthful, seemed prematurely aged by the lines of
frustration and regret which now etched it. He tossed the helmet down
angrily and spoke to the others in a voice filled with sorrow:
“Why couldn’t they just surrender?”
A small member of the blue-clad party which had accompanied him onto the
battle bridge stepped toward him. Slinging its blaster rifle, it lifted
hands to remove its own helmet, revealing the still girlish and
deceptively innocent face of Princess Leia Organa. Free of the hampering
cover, she spoke out to her brother.
“You know we had no choice, Luke,” she told him in her steady, practical
way. “It’s just that more Imperials are trying to stand their ground. We
gave them every chance. They just refused.”
The figure behind her now removed its helmet too, exposing the rugged but
good-natured face of Han Solo. He offered assurance in his own, breezy
manner. “Hey, come on kid. We couldn’t let ‘em go! Their fleet’s still
disorganized. We can’t waste a shot at
every ship we can, even a slug like this one!”
About them, the other members of the boarding company were now doffing
their own helmets and setting about starting clean-up operations on the
bridge. Luke, looking around himself again, seemed unconvinced. He shook
his head and sighed.
“I don’t know, Han,” he said in a weary tone. “It just seems like… like
such a waste.
I’ve even lost count of how many I’ve had to kill these past few days.”
Leia walked to Luke’s side. She lifted a hand to rest upon his arm and
looked up searchingly into his face. A shadow of his own distress swept
across his sister’s features.
“I understand, Luke,” she said soothingly. “I feel the pain in you. It’s
not so different from my own.”
Solo stepped up behind her.
“Well, hell, nobody likes doing this,” he offered in a bluff, defensive
way, “I’m getting kind of sick of it myself. But, if you really want to
get this over with..,” he shrugged, “...what else can you do?”
The others on the bridge were by this time busily engaged in checking over
bodies, collecting weapons, seeing to wounded, putting out fires, and
accessing damage to the controls. One of them left the rest to approach
“General Solo,” he addressed the other smartly, “ship operations are now
under our control.”
Solo turned around to him.
“Think she’ll fly, Captain?” he asked.
The man shrugged. “We’ll have to get damage reports on the engines first.”
“Well, get on it then,” Solo ordered. “We can’t hang around here forever.
No telling what other Imperial stuff’s cruising in this sector.”
The man gave a salute and moved away, only to be replaced by another,
towering figure who entered the bridge and strode toward the three.
The shaggy massive, shaggy being that approached was the Wookiee
Chewbacca. His appearance there broke the silent bond of commiseration
that had held between Luke and Leia. Both they and Han turned to greet
“Chewie!” said Han. “Got the rest of the ship secured okay?”
The Wookiee growled and grunted out a short speech. Han listened in some
puzzlement, then translated:
“A message? Now? From base?”
Chewie growled out some more. Han listened again, then turned to Leia.
“Guess it’s a Priority
One call, Princess. For you.”
Leia released Luke’s arm. At this she was swiftly all brisk business
again. “Can we take it here?”
“Yeah.” Han called out to the other men, “Hey, where’s the comm panel?”
One of the men gestured to a bank of controls. Han led the way there,
carelessly hauled the body of a dead Imperial
off the console, and punched a sequence of buttons on the board.
A screen above the console flickered to life. Han punched more buttons,
and soon the image of a grey-bearded man wavered into clear view. His
voice came to them as he apparently saw them too. He sounded relieved.
“Ah, Princess Leia. We’ve been trying to reach you for some while. We
feared something had happened.”
“We were in the midst of a battle, Commodore Nuran,” she explained. “What
“No need for any battles now, Princess,” the man said with some
excitement. “There’s been a cease fire!”
The three before the screen were clearly nonplussed by this. They
exchanged wondering looks.
“What do you mean, Commodore?” Leia asked forcefully.
“I mean that since one hour ago we’ve had an unconditional cease fire. The
Empire asked for it. We accepted. All fighting has stopped!”
As the full import of his words sank in, Luke’s face took on a stricken
“One hour ago!” he murmured.
Leia’s own expression remained guarded at the news. Han looked mainly just
“The Imperials asked for it,” he exclaimed. “Well, I’ll be!”
“Mon Mothma urgently requests that you return to the new interim base
immediately, Princess,” Nuran went on. “Plans must be made quickly. You
can get the details then.” she responded briskly.
“I understand, Commodore. Tell her we’re on our way.”
He nodded and his image faded from the screen. Leia looked to Han.
“How long until we can
be away?” she asked him.
know yet. They’re checking on the engine
gotta get a prize crew
“Well, if you can’t do it quickly, I’m
not sure we
can take the time,” she said. “It’s
more urgent I get back.”
be so urgent that I leave a Star
Destroyer for the Empire to salvage,” he replied reasonably.
if there’s going to be peace,” she countered,
“will it matter anymore?”
“You ain’t any surer of that then I am, sweetheart,”
he returned. “Besides, either way this thing’s worth a big
chunk of credits.”
“I’d hoped the mercenary was
from your soul.”
“Once a scoundrel,
always a scoundrel,” he said,
giving her a wink. He bowed and waved invitingly toward the doorway, “So,
if you’re in a hurry, come help me get things moving.”
“All right,” Leia acceded grudgingly.
The two started away toward the bridge door at a quick pace, Chewbacca
fell in behind. As they walked, she continued in an authoritative tone.
“I’ll go back to our ship to arrange for departure. You see to things here
as fast as you can. Remember, we need to…”
Her voice faded as they passed off the bridge. So absorbed with their new
concerns were they that none noticed Luke Skywalker had remained behind.
Still clearly much affected by the new revelation, the young man stood
alone, looking about him once again at the many dead. In his expression
showed an even more intense regret than before, a greater pain that cane
from deep within, gripping and wringing him tight.
He shook his head and muttered in a voice filled with both sorrow and
“Just one hour ago. One hour! If we’d only known!”
The monolithic, triangular slab of an Imperial
Star Destroyer sailed
in menacing grandeur above the
glowing curve of the planet Scalar below.
On either side of it glided the forms of half a dozen Imperial-class Star
Destroyers, seeming dwarfed now in comparison with the command ship.
From the opened bay in the belly of the big ship a tri-winged, Lambda
suddenly dropped. Its
side wings unfurled swiftly and it soared away, sweeping down in a lazy
spiral toward the surface of the planet.
As it drew nearer the surface, piercing through grey-white layers of
cloud, the outlines of a vast city laid out there came into view. It was a
modern but stark looking metropolis. One might have mistaken it for
Coruscant, save that nearly all of the buildings were of utilitarian
design with dark glass and dull metals. They were laid out with a severe
symmetry, rippling out in precisely spaced concentric rings from a round
As details of the place began to show more clearly, the nature of
individual buildings could be discerned, most especially of the one
structure that thrust up from the city’s core and loomed over it in a most
domineering way. This one was the joint Imperial High Command Headquarters
for the Regional Sector known as Kasserine.
The building began as a thick, square pedestal tapering in stages as it
towered skyward to over five hundred stories in height. Atop this
pedestal, as if some monstrous metal blossom fixed on its rigid stem,
massive pentagon. Its five flat
sides were striped with the
lights from two score more stories of windows, making the whole soaring
building nearly a mile high.
The shuttle angled down and across the city toward it, overbearingly
forcing a patrolling flight of smaller TIE fighters to scatter like a
ruptured flock of birds to avoid its path. It slowed and dropped
in toward the huge
structure’s roof. Here, shielded turbolaser batteries on each of the five
sides surrounded a central landing area.
There was a great deal of rather frenzied activity on and about the area
at the moment. More shuttles, TIE fighters and other small craft were
moving about so thickly as to appear to be near-hazards to each other.
Some few of them were landing, but the vast majority were departing, and
with what looked like a very good deal of haste.
The arriving shuttle from the command ship found its way skillfully down
through this confusing swarm of craft. It hovered a moment while
its wings lifted to landing
configuration, then settled softly to a light-ringed landing pad.
The stomach of the ship cracked open as its long loading ramp dropped to
touch the roof. Down the slanting runway from inside immediately marched
taking up positions
at either side of the base, weapons held at present arms. Behind them,
four other figures then started down.
Three were in the dark uniforms of the Imperial Command. Two young
officers of a smug and thin-lipped look preceded a somewhat older man,
clearly their superior.
He was a most imposing figure, tall and spare, long limbed and ramrod
straight, head held proudly erect and commandingly poised. He moved down
the ramp with the purposeful stride of one in full, unquestioned control.
In the rear walked a fourth figure that could most loosely be dubbed a
man. This small and most curious-looking being was man-shaped generally,
gawky and cadaverous of build, with skin drawn tight across a death’s head
face. He was quite hairless and had an eerie, blue-white translucence to
his flesh, the veins beneath the surface showing as a purplish network,
pulsing with the coursing of his blood.
Most of this somewhat repulsive form was visible as he wore only a turban-like
headdress and baggy loincloth even in the chill, stiff breeze at that high
altitude. This made quite conspicuous the hazy, softly glowing, violet
mass of the heart throbbing deep within his breast.
As the four reached the ramp’s base, the tall man pulled up, the others
stopping behind him. He stood looking around him at the landing deck. His
lean, strong featured face was drawn in a hard frown of disapproval. The
intense grey eyes set wide on either side of an emphatic hook of nose
narrowed in displeasure as they took in the scene.
About him on the deck all was near chaos. Scores of people were scurrying
around, hurriedly readying ships, carrying cargoes of supplies and
equipment and even furniture to load. The majority were obviously
abandoning the tower in some haste, and apparently taking anything movable
along with them. Most were civilians, dressed in the plain and drab
colored garb of Imperial bureaucrats.
A few wore the cloaks and colored
sashes of politicos with
The tall officer’s gaze fell upon a chubby and red-faced supervisor
struggling to cope with a herd of anxious, booty-laden folk who crowded
about him. The harried official had seemingly taken no note of the new
the rest to follow, the officer strode across to him. He stood waiting to
be noticed, but the busy supervisor ignored him. He cleared his throat for
attention, but the other stayed preoccupied, giving out directions while
computerized manifesto in his
The officer coughed again, more aggressively.
This time the rotund little man gave a great sigh of exasperation and
looked around to him.
“Yes?” he said in a prim, most put out way, “and just what you
“I am High Admiral Tharkus,” the tall man said, as if that alone should
certainly be enough.
It wasn’t. “Tharkus?”
unimpressed supervisor said
consulting his list. “I wasn’t
informed you’d be arriving
“You should have been,” the High
looking the man up and down. “And who are you?”
“I’m Chief Dockmaster Ptomel,” said the other with an air of much self-importance,
“Now, I’m quite busy,” he
added dismissingly. “You must notice there’s a great deal of confusion
here. All the panic since the Emperor’s death, and…”
brusquely cut him off. “That will end right
You will see that no more craft depart this base without permission of the
The man gave a laugh at that. He waved about him at the colossal bedlam.
“Can you see this? Do you really expect me to stop it?”
“I do,” Tharkus said domineeringly. “It’s my order.”
Ptomel’s red face grew redder, “And just who are you to give that order?”
he said indignantly. “These are mostly civilian people here. Members of
the Emperor’s government, not of your military. And some of them with a
bit of their own rank, as well.
You have no authority over them. Especially now,” he added contemptuously,
“with the dismal showing you’ve made defending us.”
From the hostile looks, agreeing nods and dark mutterings in those crowded
around and watching this exchange, it was clear the rotund supervisor had
their strong sympathy.
High Admiral Tharkus glanced around at them, then back to the little man.
you refuse to obey
me?” he challenged forcefully.
“Yes, I do.” Ptomel said, drawing up to the full of his height and meeting
the still higher gaze defiantly.
In response, the High Admiral stepped back, gesturing at the strange,
clear-skinned being as he moved behind him. “See to it,” he snapped.
The being nodded. His violet heart pulsed brighter. His body was instantly
enveloped in a sapphire glow as his preternatural metabolism swiftly
absorbed vast quantities of ambient energy from the atmosphere,
transforming it into matter. The cocoon of light obscuring his image as
his figure swelled in moments to a giant size.
Just as instantly the light faded, revealing a monstrous, amphibious-like
being where the man had been.
The green-skinned thing squatted on broad haunches, a flat and wide
mouthed head with bulging eyes looming two stories above them on a thick,
deeply puckered neck.
As the dockmaster stared in astonishment, the head shot forward, the neck
stretching far out in rubbery ease. The mouth gaped open. The man
It was over in an eye blink.
The thing had seized and swallowed Ptomel in one gulp; the head had shrunk
the body. The only sign left
of his chubby form was a round, still wiggling lump in the monster’s
But another big swallow quickly pushed that down out of sight.
The crowd around stood flabbergasted, frozen in shock. Tharkus swept a
frigid gaze around at them.
“No one refuses to obey me more than once,” he slowly, pointedly told
Coolly, the High
looked to his officers.
“Lieutenant Voss,” he said to one, “you and the troopers stay here and see
my order is obeyed.” He nodded toward the creature. “Kastor will stay and
help you as well.”
At this the creature’s slavering mouth stretched upward into a grotesque
smile. The people around cringed back from it in horror.
Lieutenant Voss saluted in reply to his commander as Tharkus turned and
started briskly away, accompanied by his other officer.
The two men made their way through the milling throng to a central roof
structure festooned with surveillance dishes and communications masts. As
they moved toward one of a row of doors set in its base, the portal hummed
open, revealing a circular lift.
The men entered it. Its door slid closed, and lights above it flickered,
its descent. In moments its door was sliding open again, letting the two
out into an interior corridor.
It was a square and
hall, its grey sides broken only by regularly spaced doors. Here the furor
on the roof was being repeated. More masses of people in mostly civilian
dress swarmed everywhere, some looking in a great hurry, many looking very
The High Admiral and his man proceeded up the corridor, weaving through
the others, dodging or stepping over a variety of just-as-bustling droids,
Tharkus cast his keen gaze around him as he walked, taking it all in.
Through one open doorway he passed, he caught a glimpse of a busy scene
within. The interior of what seemed an office had been torn apart. A small
gaggle of frantic women and men were pouring endless masses of record
disks into the voracious maw of a vaporizer, a thick square of machinery
that gobbled eagerly, like some starved metal monster at its feeding time,
and burped loudly as it disintegrated each mouthful.
Tharkus shook his head. “This will all have to be stopped at once!” he
“Yes, High Admiral,” his officer crisply agreed.
Down a side corridor to its dead-end they marched to reach a large double
door. Tharkus beeped a code into a keyboard beside it and the doors swung
inward. The two stepped through into a large room.
It was a wedge-shaped
space, widening toward the far
end where long windows looked out on one arc of the city below. Just
before the windows sat a sharp-cornered trapezoid of a black metal desk,
around which a half-dozen uniformed men stood or sat.
These men looked up with
startled expressions as the
Admiral came in. They were
frozen in tableau, expressions
somewhat guilty, even slightly fearful, as if they’d been discovered at
But as the Admiral moved forward, expressions of recognition and then
relief replaced those of concern. One square and bull-necked man bellowed
out in obvious delight: “High Admiral Tharkus! We didn’t expect you until
The Admiral strode toward them, the officer behind him closing the doors.
“I made all possible speed, General Kantos,” Tharkus replied. “What is it
that’s happening here?”
officer spoke up at this:
“The alarm’s been growing here since the destruction of the Death Star,”
he said in whining tones. “Once word spread that the Emperor must be dead,
the bureaucracy began collapsing. And word of our fleet’s routing by the
rebels has added to the chaos.”
The high-admiral reached the table. He looked around at them, face set in
“That chaos ends now, Admiral Dakova. My own flotilla is in orbit above
the capitol. As ranking officer, I am assuming command!”
“Of what?” Dakova said with despair. “The remains of our main fleet are
scattered throughout three systems,”
“A temporary setback,” Tharkus said confidently. “Our combined firepower
is still many
times that of their rag-tag
forces. Once all our reserves are activated and we’ve regrouped, we’ll be
more than their match, I assure you. Our defeat of the rebels should come
even more easily now that the Emperor’s gone.”
“What do you mean?” asked Kantos.
Tharkus looked searchingly around at them. “Be honest, gentlemen, you all
know that the Emperor held the military back. His sole power lay in his
use of the Force.” Open contempt came into his voice as he went on. “He
was no tactician. No leader. No fighting man at all! His self-serving
strategies were more a hindrance than a help.”
The officers exchanged nervous glances, but gave grudging nods. Tharkus
leaned forward on the table and spoke with sharper, venom-tipped force,
thrusting home his point:
“You also know well how he laughed at us,
belittled our skills. He charged me with some secondary role and put his
pet Darth Vader in supreme command. Well now the military will have its
proper place. We will gain control and…”
“You will do nothing
High Admiral!” a new voice
suddenly from behind him.
Tharkus jerked around toward the voice. Three new men had come through the
At their head
was an elderly man of frail bearing and silver hair. His age-creased face
was fine featured, pale, patrician. His dress was simple--loose tunic and
pants of white, belted by a wide sash of a deep purple hue. A plush and
flowing cloak of the same color hung about his shoulders. The other two
men, a bit younger in look, wore similar garb, but with blue sashes and
faced those at the desk with a bold air. Tharkus returned their looks with
one of indignation.
Valladian,” the High Admiral said icily, “you presume to invade our
private office unannounced?”
“I heard you
had come,” the elder man replied in a calm but firm tone that showed not
the faintest tinge of intimidation. “I wanted things made clear to you at
once. There will be no more fighting. We have asked for and been granted a
surely,” Tharkus said in a positive, dismissing way. “To give us time,”
you, High Admiral, it is most definitely no ploy,” Valladian answered
earnestly. “The Force is with the rebellion. The Jedi have returned…”
Tharkus snorted derisively. “One boy!”
stepped forward. His manner was both feisty and remarkably strong for one
of such frail look. He retorted uncompromisingly:
boy has been sufficient to destroy the Emperor and Vader. And if we
continue to resist, we will be destroyed as well. The Emperor swore that
the Jedi Knights had been wiped from the galaxy, that their threat was
forevermore swept away.” He paused for the full effect, then hammered on.
“He was wrong! We have no other choice. We will make peace!”
stepped forward too, confronting Valladian at close range. He towered over
the older man, speaking brusquely in outrage:
mean it! It’s madness! I refuse…”
unintimidated, the senator raised a finger to point warningly into the
to me, Tharkus,” he said in still calm but decidedly threatening tones.
“The Emperor’s government no longer controls here. Neither do you. The
Imperial Senate has regrouped on its own to take back leadership.” He cast
his gaze meaningfully around at the other officers. “And it is the order
of that Senate which you will all follow now. No one else’s!”
Valladian wheeled in a dramatic swirl of cloak and strode out with his
fellows, leaving the officers to stare after him.
dumbfounded, but Tharkus’ features showed him to be seething, face drawn
tight in rage, eyes glaring after the senator with a bright flare of hate.
defeat?” the High Admiral said through gritted teeth, “The greatest
military power in the galaxy? Let ourselves be humiliated by a dissident
rabble of dreamers, misfits, and malcontents?”
around to the others, stepping back to the desk to confront them fiercely.
cried, a fist slamming to the desk top. “We cannot let that happen!”
“But, to act
now would make us rebels too,” an anxious Dakova complained. “The
reappearance of the Jedi has awed and frightened most
in the system.
They support the Senate’s call for a swift peace.”
Kantos admitted, but more reluctantly. “Few would support us. And to
challenge the Senate would only tear the splintering Empire further
looked around at the cowed men in disbelief at what he heard. “We are
officers of the Imperial High Command!” he told them with great pride. “We
cannot just give up to terrorists! We will not!”
forward on the desk to fix a savage gaze on them, adding with a chilling
will destroy this traitorous quest for peace with the Rebellion!”
A flight of
stiletto-nosed X-wing fighters slashed down through the clear atmosphere
of the blue-grey planet, heading for its rugged surface.
It was the
mountain planet of Torbraleen, and the ships leveled at good altitude to
safely whip across its sterile, rocky terrain of deep valleys and high,
With the Empire in decline and their problems with the Ssi-Ruuk, Nagai and
Tof behind them, both the Alliance High Command and the Fleet knew it was
time to settle and commence the difficult challenge involved in governing.
As they felt they'd brought enough trouble to Endor and weren’t yet ready to
tackle Coruscant, the planet
in the Outer Rim was deemed suitable for the time.
As they swept
in closer to one tight cluster of peaks, it could be seen that the
seemingly empty tips of some actually held camouflaged ion cannon
emplacements. The big globular turrets with their upthrusting muzzles were
set deep into the rock for protection.
slowed, gliding down past another peak where both electronic and human
lookouts kept a watch, and headed for what appeared at a distance to be
only a ragged fissure in the cliff face below.
slowed further as they neared it. The crack could now be recognized as the
camouflaged entrance to a hanger bay. The ships glided through it and into
the lit space that opened impressively beyond.
It looked as
if the entire top portion of the mountain was a hollow one, forming a
single vast chamber. Its sides of smooth stone, tapering up neatly toward
a dome, gave evidence of its mechanical construction.
sun glowing warmly in the dome shed a clear light on the open floor of
this hidden landing bay.
thickly scattered with various types of ships, mostly small, mostly
bristling with armaments. Hundreds of living beings and droids of widely
varying types moved busily about, servicing the fleet.
slipped in above them, hovered, and, at the direction of men waving
directional lights, dropped smoothly into a cleared space in the bay.
crews swarmed in around them, another, smaller group of beings came into
view beyond, weaving its way across the crowded, bustling floor.
Organa led the group, in company with a grey-bearded man in baggy brown
uniform. Behind them Luke Skywalker and Han Solo walked together while the
Wookiee Chewbacca brought up the rear alone.
Leia and the
bearded man were locked in conversation. She, clearly the eager focus of
the man’s whole attention, listened as he continued:
all most happy to see you here, Princess.”
around to see a young man in the orange flight suit of a fighter pilot
jumping down from the ladder of one of the X-wings. He waved
enthusiastically and rushed toward them.
As he reached
the group, a beaming Luke cried “Wedge!” and moved to meet him.
watched while Luke and the other man hugged warmly as old friends. The two
pulled apart to grin at one another, the rare smile bringing much of the
youth back into Luke’s dour face.
glad to see you made it through, Wedge,” he said earnestly.
Wedge casually replied. “Good to see you in one piece too.” He looked
around at the others. “And the rest of you okay?”
“Not for any
lack of trying by our Imperial pals,” said Han.
They took up
their walking again, Wedge falling in with them. He nodded agreement with
“I know what
you mean. We’ve had some hot times ourselves. A tough bunch those
Imperials are, even in retreat. I can’t say we weren’t relieved by the
“Do you think
it’s for real?” Luke asked,
shrugged. “Seems to be. My flight’s just returned from a long recon sweep.
There’s no action we can see.”
“I just can’t
believe it,” Han said skeptically. “Those cold-blooded rodders? Just give
“I have to
admit, I feel some doubts myself,” Wedge said soberly, then smiled again
as another thought came to him. “But, hey, there’re some others here
who’ll be happy to see you,” He looked around him at the busy floor. “I’m
a little surprised they haven’t shown up by now, matter of fact. Should be
As if in
response to him, a familiar and distinctly excited series of squeaks and
whistles sounded from across the floor, growing rapidly louder.
At the sound
Luke grinned once more, even more broadly. “I think I can guess who,” he
again to look toward the approaching noise. The short, blue-and-white,
barrel-shaped form of the droid R2-D2 rolled toward them through the
clutter of the floor, followed closely by the gold, roughly human figure
of its faithful counterpart, C-3P0.
greeted the now-gleefully beeping little droid, patting its domed top.
section pivoted back-and-forth like the head of a puppy beneath its
master’s hand, and the swivel lens of its camera eye switched happily.
up to the man-like droid. “Hey, Goldenrod,” he greeted heartily “how’s it
slap across Threepio’s back had enough force to stagger the metal being.
With a whine
of pneudraulic muscles the droid recovered, drew up stiffly, then replied
in his precise, prissy way:
Master Solo… considering.” He paused, and a tiny but definite tone of
resentment appeared, adding an edge to the normally reserved voice.
“Though, to be quite honest, Artoo and I have not enjoyed being
abandoned here like cast-off scrap while you all went off adventuring
about the galaxy. This really is a most dreary place.”
Professor,” Han said sarcastically. “We didn’t need your help chasing down
Star Destroyers. Besides, we figured you’d rather be safe here.”
Artoo and I have gotten rather used to excitement over these past few
years,” the droid replied. “Furthermore, there is a great deal of hard
work to do here. I don’t mind it myself, but they keep trying to plug poor
Artoo into all manner of machinery and ships.” He leaned forward and added
more confidentially, “And not all of it is quite, well, nice, if
you get my meaning, Sir. One doesn’t know where all it’s been. It causes
no end of bother.” Threepio dropped a hand onto the little droid’s head.
“He’s most adamant about staying loyal to you, Master Luke.”
man with them shook his head in amazement.
enough,” he said. “I’ve never seen any droid so loyal to one man. Almost
like it was a living being.”
have it any other way,” Luke said sincerely.
He gave the
cylindrical droid an affectionate hug, then looked around at the others.
old times, huh?” he said with a flash of his past boyish effervescence.
Han said, smiling.
growled his own agreement. But Leia stood, hands on hips, face registering
we have the reunions later?” she said with some impatience. “We’re in a
bit of a hurry now.”
With that she
turned and strode on without waiting, the guide falling in beside her.
Behind her, Han exchanged a glance with Luke, rolling his eyes up in a “so,
we’re in that kind of mood, eh?” expression. Luke shrugged in reply,
and they all followed after her.
little group moved on across the floor toward the far, sloping wall, where
the lighted capsules of glass elevators slid in a system of tubes,
carrying passengers downward to a series of chambers below.
The guide led
them into one of the cars.
23,” he said into the voice-activated control, and swiftly they were
dropping into the tube.
believe this is the full situation as we have it to date,” the voice
was a striking woman of indeterminable age, slender, tall, of noble
bearing and strong, handsome features. Her even, soft, but still
commanding voice carried easily across the large circle of table to all
those who sat about it.
have been encrypted with special seals which we’ve identified,” she went
on. “Voice and images have been verified as well. There is no doubt it is
the Senator Taj Valladian to whom we’ve spoken.”
The table was
a single mass of rock carved into a rough circle, the green-and-grey
swirls of its marble-like surface polished to a soft sheen. A light from
above was projecting a slowly turning holographic image of the senator’s
head just above the tabletop’s center. Around it sat Princess Leia and her
comrades, in addition to the older woman and a dozen men in uniform.
addressed the woman: “And you feel he’s proven that they are in control,
nodded. “Valladian has provided us with many assurances, as well as the
confirmed statements of senators—almost all of those who survived the
Senate’s disbanding by the Emperor—representing nearly twelve thousand
systems. They categorically support him and corroborate his claim.”
The room in
which this meeting was taking place was a smaller version of the hanger
bay—a simple, smooth-walled cone cut from the living rock. A lens-studded
globe suspended within its apex provided rays of illumination, and
projected the holographic beam as well.
studied the image floating within it. “Senator Valladian,” she said
thoughtfully. “He was a good friend to the people of Alderaan. I knew him
as a girl.”
must see why it is so vital that you go, Leia,” Mon Mothma put in. “In
addition to your own contacts with the Senate as Alderaan’s ambassador,
you are of the old royalty, the ruling classes of the Old Republic’s time.
No one is so fit to negotiate a peace with them.”
At this, Han
piped up with some force. “I just don’t see how you can believe this kark!
How can this… senator suddenly be calling the Empire’s shots?”
At his abrupt
outburst, the others looked in some surprise to him. Mon Mothma’s gaze was
somewhat disapproving, as if he were a rowdy pupil speaking out of turn.
“How much do
you know of the galaxy’s history?” she asked plainly, though Han thought
he could detect a note of condescension.
enough,” he retorted defensively. “But I’ve been a little busy trying
to stay alive to take lessons.”
moved in, speaking in more patient tones to him: “Han, what Chief of State
Mothma means is that the Senate has been the accepted form of government
in the Old Republic for 25,000 years, and the Royal House of Alderaan has
been a part of that since its inception.”
accepted. “I know something about that. And when old Palpatine took power,
he eventually shut down the Senate.
agreed, “that body had long been a figurehead anyway, a semblance of
democracy to help keep the local systems placated while he gradually
replaced them with COMPNOR, the Moffs and the Imperial Ruling Council.”
understand why he didn’t wipe the whole bunch out as soon as he declared
himself Emperor,” said Han. “He was sure ruthless enough.”
This came from Mon Mothma. “Even so, he didn’t dare, for all his power. It
would only have confirmed what the Separatists had been saying and led to
further secession. So the Senate, at least those members who didn’t openly
oppose him, were allowed to survive.”
they’ve re-formed,” Leia said. “In the vacuum the Emperor’s death has
left, some have looked to them for leadership. And in the panic our new
victories have brought, the senators have seized the chance to make
overtures for peace.”
Han shook his
head, clearly not yet convinced. “After all this fighting, why should we
should we trust them about this?”
it’s true, it could save millions of lives,” Leia replied. “Who knows how
much longer this war might last otherwise?”
“We have them
on the run,” he said stubbornly.
still reorganize,” she argued back. “Join up with one or more of the
Imperial Warlords like Harrsk or Zsinj, or worse, lend their ships to
Pestage on Coruscant, Think, Han. Their resources are vast. Only a quarter
of their sectors are in our hands. A chance at peace is worth the risk.”
Mon Mothma said firmly. “Even a small opportunity must be investigated.
But,” she added more cautiously, “General Solo expresses a salient point:
we must also be careful. Even if they are sincere, there will be those on
both sides against such a peace. Negotiations must be handled under the
greatest security. We are now seeking a neutral planet. Something safely
then,” Han finally acceded. “But if the Princess is gonna go, then I’m
gotta take her, don’t they? There’s no ship that’s safer than the
echoed Leia dubiously.
sustained some damage in the Battle of Saijo, I understand.”
big,” Han assured. “It’s being seen to now.” He leaned forward, “Look,
Chief,” he said confidently, “if you want your ambassador flown to this
secret spot of yours without anyone knowing, then I’m your man. No one and
nothing is as fast as me and Chewie.”
there,” Leia agreed, having to smile at the man’s amiable cockiness. “Han
and his ship would be our best way to go.”
said with satisfaction. “Chewie and I can be her escort, and ‘course,
Luke’s gonna be with us.”
Skywalker had sat silently, listening musingly through all of this talk.
Now he spoke up quietly but firmly:
“No, Han. I’m
They all turned to Luke with looks of astonishment. “What do you mean?” a
disconcerted Leia asked him. “Of course I want you with me.”
He shook his head. “You don’t need me. I’d just be in the way.”
“You wouldn’t!” she protested. “How can you say that?”
His reply was calmly reasoning. “Because it’s true. I’m no diplomat, Leia.
That’s your skill. I’m still just a farm boy from a backward planet on the
fringe of the Galaxy. I never got the education or experience you did.
I just ran off with Ben Kenobi, and here I am.”
“But, you could still go,” Leia argued. “You could learn…”
Luke cut her off.
Leia,” he said in a heavy
way. “I’m really just not up to it right now. To tell the truth, I’m
feeling kind of… tired.”
He got to his feet, his
giving evidence of a
an odd forlornness too. Solo began to rise as well, holding out a hand.
Leia held up her own hand in a restraining way. “No,” she said firmly.
“Let him go, if it’s what he wants.”
Han settled back, though reluctantly. Luke gave his sister a small,
“Thanks. I figured you’d understand. I’m going now. May the Force be with
you.” He looked around to the little droid. “Artoo, you come with me.”
The droid squeaked in answer and obediently rolled after him as he moved
away toward the door. The others, still at a loss over his strange
attitude, looked after him.
As the sliding door whooshed closed behind him, Han turned to Leia.
“How can you
let him go like that?” he demanded accusingly. “Something’s wrong with the
“What’s wrong with my brother is his own affair,” she replied quietly.
Han was plainly confounded by this seeming callousness on her part. “Yeah,
“General Solo,” she said in a firm and formal way, “the peace of the
Galaxy is our only concern now. If you mean to use the Falcon, shouldn’t
you be seeing that the ship is prepared?”
That threw Solo even more aback. He stared, then his face drew into a
scowl at this somewhat curt dismissal.
“Oh, well, sure,” he returned with sarcasm in his tones.
“At your command, Your Majesty.”
He rose and gestured to his comrades. “C’mon, guys, let’s us peasants
go get our hands dirty…” he flashed her a resentful look, “and leave the
rest to the nobility.”
He stalked away, followed by his companions. Of their little band only
Leia remained behind.
She watched him go out of the room with a look of annoyance. Mon Mothma
leaned toward her and smiled.
“You have an interesting bond with General Solo.”
“I suppose,” was Leia’s exasperated reply.
“It’s just that Han can be so difficult at times.”
“That woman can really be a pain!” Han Solo
was meantime proclaiming just outside as he led his friends
into an elevator.
The glass car began its ascent toward the hangar level.
C-3P0 spoke up defensively: “The Princess has a great many
responsibilities, Master Solo. As a leading member of the Provisional
Council for the transitioning Alliance of Free Planets to the burgeoning
Han wheeled on him. “If I want your opinion, Goldenrod, I’ll ask for it.”
“Of course, sir,” Threepio hastened to assure him in a contrite manner.
The elevator slowed to a halt at the hanger floor. Its door hummed open.
“She does have a lot on her plate, Han,” put in Wedge as they stepped out.
“And, with this new treaty with the former Imperial Senate, she’ll have
even more to worry about.”
“Maybe,” Han said grudgingly. “Anyway, I’ve got worries of my own. So,
where is she, Wedge?”
Wedge pointed off across the hangar floor. “That way. Repair bay three.”
Han headed off toward it at a quick pace, the others falling in around
him. As they walked, he mused aloud, clearly still much irked:
“I’d just like to show Miss High-and-Mighty she’s not the only intellect
around here. I’ve got some ideas too.”
Chewbacca responded to that, his grunts and growls undoubtedly a question.
“Like what?” Han translated with some indignation. “Like where they can
hold this little meeting of theirs, for one. Might be I can teach Her
Worship something there.”
“One might almost believe you two were in some type of competition, Sir,”
Threepio ventured timidly.
“Her and me?” Solo gave a belittling hoot of laughter. “No contest at all.
We’re real pals.”
They reached a wide, rectangular opening in the side
wall of the main room and passed through it into the repair bay. This was
a smaller but still spacious area, lined with complex equipment, shelves
of parts, and racks of tools.
Solo stopped abruptly as they came into it, the others pulling up behind.
He stared ahead with a look of blended deep relief and great
Before him, filling much of the bay, sat the familiar, horned-saucer shape
of the Millennium Falcon, squatting on the three broad pads of its landing
gear, boarding ramp down, while a swarm of men in overalls crawled into,
under, and on top of her.
Brightly lit by the beams from banks of work lamps, the much-abused
craft looked most uncharacteristically clean. The trails of rust and
scorch marks from blaster hits had been scoured away, and her hull had a
soft, smooth sheen from being newly buffed.
Most of the workmen seemed to be engrossed in final, minor, loose-ends
operations, vacuuming the landing ramp, tightening bolts, polishing glass.
Three of them worked on the forward top hull to fit a broad communications
dish into position on its swivel mounting.
“There she is,” Han said, drinking in the sight. Then, with great
sincerity, he added, “I never saw anything look so good.”
He walked forward slowly, the others following. They moved up under the
curve of her lower hull to the front landing gear. Han ran a caressing
hand down it, murmuring affectionately:
“How are you, girl? You know, there was a time I thought I’d never see you
“They’ve been working hard on her,” supplied Wedge, “getting her back in
“Uh huh,” Han replied noncommittally, his eyes scanning her underbelly
critically. “We’ll see.”
A man whose clean, crisply-pressed overalls said ‘supervisor’
came over to them. He was a dapper little fellow with neatly curled
mustaches, and spoke in a clipped way:
Han turned to him. “That’s right.”
“I’m Higgins. Crew Chief here. We’ve had a time of it, getting this old
girl back in shipshape, I can tell you.”
“Oh, yes. Hard to find a comm dish for a buggy so obsolete. Quite sure you
wouldn’t want to trade her in for something a bit more up-to-date?”
a chance, Chief,”
Han assured. He patted the ship.
got a lot of good years left. When she goes to the scrap pile, it’ll
be with my carcass still at the controls.”
The man shrugged, and cracked a little smile.
you will, General. Well, she’s
nearly ready now. Refit and as near new as we can make her.”
just see about that for myself,”
Han told him skeptically. He looked to the Wookiee.
The repair crew was gone. The
Falcon sat unattended save for only two figures working on her top hull.
The immense, hairy form of Chewbacca knelt on the hull, a tool box open
beside him. Below the Wookiee, Han Solo stood up to his waist in one of
the engineering access cavities.
Both were more than a bit disheveled and soiled from a good period of hard
work which was continuing diligently now. Chewbacca watched as Solo
fiddled with some thick bundles of wires.
“They seem okay,” he muttered. He called into a small, hand
intercom. “Hey, Professer, you there?”
Inside the Falcon’s cockpit, C-3P0 sat in the pilot’s seat. He punched his
intercom button, calling back: “Yes, Master Solo,”
“Check the motivator circuit on the H-K firing cells, will ya?” Han’s
The droid leaned forward and flipped a switch on the control panel
back-and-forth several times.
“Turn this dial, toggle that circuit. Fetch this, Threepio. Fix that,
Threepio. Shut up, Threepio,” he groused to himself. “One would think that
such a menial lot was all we were made for!”
On top of the ship, Solo was touching a circuit, tester to the leads,
noting its needle jump.
“That seems okay too,” he remarked, “But I better check on that transducer
He got down on his knees and crawled in under the overhanging lip of the
“Hummmmm,” he said appraisingly. “A little loose. Chewie, hand me that
number five hydrospanner, okay?”
shuffled through the box, took out the wrench-like tool and handed it
down. Solo’s hand came into view as he took it and carried it from sight.
The staccato clicks of ratcheting began.
While it went on, the waiting Chewie lifted his head and gazed around him
idly. But his gaze was caught, and he stared fixedly.
Through the door of the bay and out across the main hangar floor he’d
sighted a small figure in an orange suit making its way through the
Chewie gazed more intently, sharp eyes focusing. There
was no doubt. The figure was that of Luke Skywalker, clad
in a flightsuit. And the unmistakable barrel form of R2-D2 was closely
Still watching, Chewie growled out a terse statement. The still-laboring
Han’s reply from the hole was
“You see Luke? Yeah? So what?”
Chewie growled again, with more urgency. This time it jerked Solo upright
in his small space.
“Leaving? Ow!” he said as his skull sharply contacted the hull above,
He quickly crawled into the open and stood, rubbing the sore spot as he
looked irritably around.
Chewie pointed a long arm. Han’s gaze followed it and he stared. Across
the hangar, Luke had now reached a parked X-wing and was looking it over
while Artoo stood by.
“That’s him, all right,” an astonished Han proclaimed.
He clambered from the hole and handed his tool to the Wookiee. “Here
Chewie. Keep at it. I’m gonna see what this is all about.”
And with that he began to climb down from the Falcon’s
Across the hangar, meanwhile, Luke had finished his ship inspection and
was now watching two men hook the suction-like lifter end of a Magna-crane
line to the round
top of Artoo’s form.
With it firmly attached, word was given, and the crane began to lift. As
the droid rose from the floor, Luke turned away and picked up a white
flight helmet. He was inspecting
inside when Han reached him.
“Hey, kid,” the older man called. “What’s going on?”
Luke looked up to see him. He smiled, but in a distant, distracted way.
“Oh, hi, Han,” he answered vaguely. “Things seem so quiet now—the war on
hold and everything, I just felt restless. Got to get away somewhere.”
“Well, if you’ve got an itch to do something, you could still come with
us,” Han suggested.
Luke shook his head. “No. I think what I need is to be alone for a while.”
Han eyed him searchingly for a moment, then moved closer.
“Look, this is ol’ Han, remember? We’ve been through a lot together. I
mean, I may not have the Force, but I can sure feel when there’s something
you. You can tell me,” he added coaxingly.
Luke met his gaze squarely, face tightening into hard lines.
“Maybe that’s it, Han,” he said with force. “I’m not
a kid anymore.” A rueful note came into his voice. “I lost that part of me
a few years ago, when I left
home on Tatooine. Lost it pretty fast, too, as I recall.”
we’ve all lost a lot in this,”
Han said sympathetically,
“me, Chewie, Leia. That’s the way war is.”
“It’s not the same,” Luke returned. “You’d all been out there, a part of
it before. You were all tough.
Leia. I never had any of that on Tatooine. I was just a dumb kid.” He
considered. “In a lot of ways, I suppose that I still am. Except with
this… power in me that I don’t fully understand.” He shook his head
violently as if he would like to cast it out, then declared with some
despair, “I’ve just gotta get away.”
“You can’t run from it, Luke,” Han said firmly.
“I’m not running,” Luke told him. “I’m trying to… find
something. Some answers, maybe.” He looked to
Han with urgent appeal. “Can you understand that?”
Solo considered his friend with unusual gravity for a
moment. Then he nodded.
Luke. I guess I can understand. We all get to having doubts about who we
are sometimes. I just didn’t like seein’ you go off alone this way. I
was…” he hesitated over the difficult admission, “…oh, hell, I was worried
Luke smiled and put a hand on Solo’s shoulder.
“Thanks for that,” he said warmly. “But I’ll be okay, Han. Really. I just
need a little
time to sort things out. That’s all.”
A ground crewman came up to them.
“We’ve got your droid all loaded, Commander Skywalker,” he announced.
Luke looked away from Solo and nodded acknowledgement to the man.
He slipped on his helmet, then clasped hands with his old friend.
“I’ll see you soon,” Luke assured. “I promise.”
“May the Force be with you,” Han replied with feeling.
Luke turned away and moved to the ladder of his ship. While he began to
climb, Han backed away out of the landing circle and stood watching the
younger man until he had settled into the cockpit.
Despite Luke’s assurance, Han’s face showed his misgivings as he watched
the canopy come down and the X-wing begin to lift from the floor on its
The ship was sliding away before the directing lights of a deck signalman
when Han became aware of another figure beside him.
He looked around to see that it was Leia,
also staring intently after the departing ship.
“Luke’s taking off for somewhere,” he supplied.
“I know,” she replied.
She looked to him, her eyes taking in his troubled expression.
“There was nothing you could do,” she soothingly explained. “I can feel
the turmoil in him. It’s been growing for some time. He’s got to resolve
it himself, Han. You can’t help him with it. Only he can find the way.”
His probing gaze met hers. His voice was grim. “What if that way leads to
the Dark Side?”
To this she gave no answer. But as her gaze shifted back to the X-wing
just slipping out the main hangar door, a glint of mixed hope and worry
shone in her eyes.
Outside the door, the X-wing was already activating its main engines and
It angled up and across the rocky landscape as it accelerated, in seconds
shooting from the hazy envelope of atmosphere and entering the
black-crystal clarity of space.
As the ship rapidly pierced deeper into the star swept dark, the young man
in its cockpit checked his instruments. From its own cozy port behind the
cockpit, the little droid peeped and whistled to him.
Its sounds showed up as readable symbols scrolling across a cockpit
screen. Luke read them and answered.
“You want a destination, Artoo?” He considered.
spoke the single word: “Home!”
The ship banked and blasted away into space, leaving the grey-white marble
of the planet behind.
But, as it did, a second X-wing came suddenly into view, slicing up out of
the planet’s atmosphere.
Within its cockpit sat another pilot in an orange flight suit, but wearing
a metallic blue helmet instead. He consulted his laser tracking scope,
noting the blip of the
other fighter ahead. The pilot nodded with satisfaction and nudged his
thruster controls full on.
The X-wing flashed forward, banking to take up position dead in the other
fighter’s wake, but at a very safe distance
The Heart of the Jedi
by Kenneth C. Flint
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
Kenneth C. Flint
Find his other books at:
See his author Facebook page at:
The X-wing fighter sailed from
black space into the bright glow of a new world’s atmosphere.
This one was Tatooine, Luke
Skywalker’s first home. A burnished copper sphere of a planet, it was
blemished here-and-there by the swirls of immense wind storms, surrounded
by a ruddy aura of high-blown dust.
The fighter sliced down through
the obscuring atmosphere to come into clear sight of the surface below. It
was a desolate vista, largely flat, desert landscape marked by occasional
ridges of stone-like bony spines thrusting out through long mummified
The X-wing soared across it for
some time, staying low over the ground. Then it banked sharply, swinging
around and slowing to a cruising speed.
Luke lifted his visor and craned
his head to look out through the canopy and down. Below him was visible a
seeming habitation. Several circular forms, their structure and symmetry
bearing evidence of artificial construction, huddled together not far from
a flat ridge where lines of spire-like moisture vaporators showed.
“That’s it,” Luke said. “That’s
our moisture farm. Let’s take her in, Artoo.”
He brought the ship around and
they passed over again, very low, buzzing the place. It was clear from
this height that many of the vaporator devices meant to collect the farm’s
water crop were damaged or half buried in dust, losing their struggle with
the harsh environment for want of care. There were no signs of living
beings or functioning machines anywhere.
The ship slowed more to glide in
over an open area close to the structures. It hovered while its landing
gear locked down and then sank gently to rest amidst a brown dust-cloud
blown up by the repulsorlift’s blast.
Before the dust had settled or
the engine noise faded away, the canopy was cracked and swung open. Luke
was quickly out of the cockpit, pulling off his helmet and tossing it back
He climbed back onto the wing to
help R2-D2 unplug from its control socket and then lowered the little
droid to the ground. He jumped down after it and stood pivoting slowly as
he cast a surveying gaze around him.
A wistfulness filled his
expression as he looked again on what had been his childhood home.
There wasn’t much to see. The
farm’s yard and few buildings were surrounded by rough desert striped with
rock ridges, sparsely dotted with scruffy brush. The open flatness was
broken only by the minaret-like spires of more moisture vaporators
thrusting up around the horizon at irregular intervals.
Not far ahead of him, the grey
stuccoed dome of the garage was the building rising highest from the
ground, and this was not more than ten feet. To the left and some yards
behind it showed the broader, flatter roof of the much larger underground
barn, one side rent open by an explosion whose force had left the hole’s
edges blackened and curled back. And to the right, some three dozen yards
away, was the wide, round pit that marked the atrium of the subterranean
Behind Luke, R2-D2 beeped to him
“Remember it?” Luke replied to
the droid, “Of course you do, Artoo. We met here. It’s where it all
started. At least, for me.”
He gazed around again. An image
of memory came to him of a vast sand crawler with tiny Jawas swarming
about it, trotting out their wares of scavenged druids. He saw himself and
a stern Uncle Owen choosing out a battered Threepio and filthy Artoo from
Just more hands for the farm,
they had thought then. Yes, that’s when it had begun.
His gaze fixed on the entrance to
the white dome, where stairs went down through a cave-like portal into the
garage below. As he stared, another image was superimposed on this, of two
scorched and contorted skeletons sprawled there, still smoking from the
energy blasts which had consumed their living flesh. Blasts from the
weapons of the Empire.
His face drew taut in anguish at
the remembered sight of his murdered uncle and aunt. If the droids’
arrival had begun things for him, this more horrible event set his future
course, driving him to join Obi Wan. For revenge?
He gave his head a shake as if to
clear it of the memory, then glanced around to Artoo, now out on the
“I’m going in through the garage
to look around,” he said. “Why don’t you wait here.”
The droid squeaked an
acknowledgement. Luke moved away from the ship to the stairway. It was
half-choked with drifting sand, and he waded down slowly, hesitating
before passing through the door.
It was quite gloomy beyond, the
lighting systems and electronic apparatus without power. Still, enough
light filtered down from outside to show that the work area had been
The apparatus controls and
indicators lining the walls had been thoroughly blasted away. Machinery
and an angular tractor had been all but blown apart, their scorched pieces
scattered about along with the garage tools. Walls and ceiling were
blackened by the fire which had burned there, and the air of the room was
still thick with the acrid scent of smoke.
Luke was dismayed by the sight of
this wanton devastation. With more urgency he moved through the room to
another opening on its right side, and into an underground passage lit by
slit skylights above. It led to the house proper, coming out into its
Or, what had been its kitchen.
That too he found to have been savagely vandalized.
This underground room, like the
others, had whitewashed stucco walls. They were now sprayed and streaked
with the molding remains of foods and liquids hurled against them. More
food remains thickly coated the floor, along with the fragments of smashed
plates, cookware, and appliances. The smell of decay hung thickly in the
Luke looked around him, his
stomach churning with revulsion. He forced himself to move on. Through the
kitchen he reached an eating space, its table upended, its chairs
demolished. He paused to look upward there. On the arch of ceiling above,
a gold and brown fresco of stylized creatures and geometric shapes had
been defaced with an extra viciousness, smeared over and partially hacked
He felt an extra twinge of pain
at the sight. The artwork had been a special favorite of Aunt Beru.
From this his eyes went to a wide
doorway that opened to a large, bright space beyond. He walked through,
coming out into the central atrium of the house.
This was a circular area some
forty feet across and open to the sky. A sheer wall rising two dozen feet
enclosed it and was pierced by the stone-framed, rough openings of several
doors and one window.
Luke paused again here to look
around him, now fully taken by his shock. For this place was also a
After he’d first left Tatooine,
the property, along with numerous others southeast of the Jundland Wastes,
had been seized by the Tagge Company, one of the largest megacorporations
in the galaxy. After a failed operation on the planet, they abandoned it.
When he’d last been here, around six months or so after the now-famous
Battle of Yavin, Luke had given the homestead to a down-on-his-luck
smuggler named Throgg. He had lost his own moisture farm years earlier to
an Imperial Bureaucrat who seized it by “right” of eminent domain. Throgg
eventually sold it to Jula Darklighter, the uncle of his friend Biggs. He
stayed on a few seasons as a tenant before he too moved away. Presumably,
Jula still owned the property, but it seemed the Lars Homestead was
destined to be empty of all but ghosts.
More wreckage of all kinds was
strewn across the open space. A wide streak of black soot ran upward from
the opening to what had been a storage room, now gutted by fire. Two
vaporator towers in the atrium’s center had been mutilated, sides dented,
pipes and wiring ripped away. The clumsy, fat box of an old-fashioned work
droid sat upended, one side caved in, thick legs pointing to the sky.
Any doors which had closed
openings to the underground rooms had all been smashed in. Furniture,
decorations, appliances, fixtures and clothes had been dragged out and
destroyed, apparently with great ardor and brutality.
This gave Luke pause. That kind
of extra vandalism seemed uncharacteristic of the Empire, he thought, It
seemed to him that beyond the Imperial troops systematic sabotage at the
farm, someone more vindictive had worked off a good deal of rage here.
The end of a curved stick
protruded from the torn cushion of a sofa. Luke went to it and pulled it
out. He examined it curiously. It had been a longer stick, but broken off,
perhaps in the act of destruction. Its curved and bulbous handle was
ornately decorated with intricate geometric designs made of inset, colored
bits of enameling.
It confirmed his suspicion.
“Sand People!” he muttered
angrily, hurling it away.
But with this realization, a new
sense of self-concern came to. He gazed about himself again, keenly and
warily, drawing his blaster pistol from its holster. If roving bands of
the Tusken Raiders had been there, they might be still around.
He saw and heard nothing about
him in the deserted ruins. Still, when he went on it was more cautiously.
He crossed the atrium to an
opening on its far side. After peering through, he stepped in, gun at
Beyond the door was a large, long
room. Light through a high window helped illuminate it, revealing the
tangled debris of what had been living room furniture. Bits of sofas,
chairs, tables, and what had been an elegant rocking-chair could still be
identified. But it could also be seen here that from the amount of
wreckage left, not all could have been ravaged. Some things had vanished
These raiders had come to loot as
well as destroy.
Luke moved on across this room,
feet crunching through the layer of debris, reaching yet another, smaller
doorway. Its door hung half-torn from its hinges and blocking the opening.
He pushed it aside, hesitated a moment, and passed through.
This time the room was much
smaller—a cubicle perhaps ten feet on a side. His own bedroom.
It was windowless and still
white-walled, having escaped that much ravaging. But its sparse
furniture--bed, dresser, end table, and chair--had suffered the fate of
the rest. Chair and table had been torn apart and the bed ripped open.
Dresser drawers had been yanked out, their clothing torn and scattered
around. All other items had been systematically savaged too, leaving only
their bits, rags, and shards.
Luke lowered his gun and dropped
down heavily on the edge of his gutted bed. He looked over this wreckage
and sighed with deep regret. There seemed to be nothing of his past life
here that had remained intact.
Something sticking out from under
the bed caught his eye. He leaned down and picked it up. It had been a
detailed model of a sleek, tri-winged space ship, its three long foils
sweeping back gracefully. But the upper wing was broken now, canted
sharply to one side. And the slender hull had been crushed, as beneath a
foot, leaving a gaping hole.
As he held it, a montage of past
images triggered by this toy streamed unbidden through his mind.
There went his childhood playing
space wars in the atrium, rushing around with the ship, blasting imagined
There went his youth learning to
fly a real if tiny ship, bombarding imaginary brush and desert creatures
with clods of dirt.
And there too went his long, long
days of dreaming about adventures and glory soaring through the galaxy
while he worked out his grueling real days on the barren, isolated farm.
He lifted the poor remains to
swing back and forth in one hand, as if the boy still in him were flying
that treasured focus of past dreams just once more, for old time’s sake.
Then, very gently, he set the model down on the ruined bed.
He stood, giving his room a final
look, feeling a last, deep pang of mourning for what had once been here.
Then the young warrior steeled himself and strode out.
Purposefully now he made his way
back through to the atrium and another stairway. This one led him directly
up and out of the house, back to the farm’s yard.
He strode around the curve of the
atrium pit to stop before a long, low pair of mounds. Each was marked by a
rough lump of rock placed at its head.
Luke knelt at the foot of the
mounds, looking at the rocks. Then he spoke aloud:
“Hello, Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru,”
he said. “It’s me... Luke. I came back again.”
He paused there, looking
uncomfortable, obviously searching for words. At last he went on:
“I... I’m sorry I had to just
bury you like this. There wasn’t a lot of time then. I’m sorry I had to
leave you too, but it there was so much I had to do. I guess I could say I
was out saving the galaxy, if that was important to you. But maybe only
the farm was. And maybe you were right.
can’t even tell you that I got revenge on who did this to you. It was my
He paused once more, again
“Well,” he went on more
resignedly, “that’s done now. I only hope you can forgive me for running
off on some damn-fool adventure and leaving you to die. You did raise me,
both of you, the best you knew how. And for all our arguments back then, I
did love you,”
He put a hand down to rest for a
moment atop each mound. Then he arose and stood there for a while longer,
head bowed over them. He and the mounds formed a stark tableau in the
midst of the barren landscape.
But soon a whistling and beeping
roused the young man from his silent introspection. He lifted his head and
turned to see R2-D2 rolling across the yard toward him from the ship.
“No, I didn’t forget you, Artoo,”
he said. He listened to more squeaks. “Yes, I guess I’m almost finished
here.” He listened again. “Leaving Tatooine?” he interpreted.
“No, not quite yet.” He looked
out into the desert, adding more determinedly, “There’s still one other
place I have to go.”
“Old Ben’s place,” said Luke
sadly. “What a mess!”
He and the little droid stood
together by their X-wing, now parked in a level spot before a lone hut.
The dwelling was of a style
similar to the garage dome, but somewhat larger, and with a wavy roof
produced by a series of barrel vaults. Much of its whole shape was
obscured by a high mound of sand which had drifted against both it and the
ragged outcrop of rock up to which it nestled.
Though also half-buried by blown
sand, a scattering of broken household objects could still be detected
before the dwelling.
“Looks like Sand People hit here
too,” Luke commented, eying the debris. He pulled his blaster and gestured
to the droid. “Come on, Artoo. But be careful. They could still be
Giving a frightened little
squeal, it followed him across the open area, both of them leaving deep
tracks in the sand layer as they approached the hut. Luke paused once to
more closely examine a wrecked chair and the area around it.
“That’s pretty weathered,” he
declared, “and there are no tracks around it. This must have happened a
Still he proceeded with caution,
leading the droid up to the single, open door. He pushed through a low
drift of sand across its threshold into the hut, Artoo very close behind.
The interior was a single room,
the vaults of its ceiling supported by square pillars. Here too all the
contents seemed to have been painstakingly destroyed. Still Luke went
through them carefully, seeking for anything that might have survived.
He found a small, golden, spice
shaker that looked surprisingly intact. He set it down on the cylindrical
pedestal of a one-time stone table whose round top now lay cracked on the
floor beside it. He searched into every alcove and cranny in the room
without more success, until his eye fell on a large, metal,
bound-and-studded chest in a corner, its lid closed.
His eyes lit with recognition and
he went to it.
“This is where Ben kept my
father’s lightsaber to give to me,” he told the droid.
He raised the lid with a surge of
expectation, as if some other treasure might yet be found within. He gazed
The chest was empty.
He dropped the lid back and sat
down atop it, looking around dejectedly at the room.
“Oh Artoo,” he said with despair,
“what am I even doing here? What’d I expect to find? There’s
nothing that’s going to bring back the person I was. I lost that long ago
He looked around him hopelessly
again, then lowered his gaze downward, calling out plaintively:
“Help me, Ben. Tell me what to
Almost immediately, a shimmering
column of light appeared behind him.
“Luke, I’m here,” a voice from
within it called back to him.
He stood and whirled toward it,
staring as the shimmer resolved into a figure of the white-bearded Obi-Wan
Kenobi, surrounded by a scintillating silver halo.
“Ben!” Luke greeted. “I’m glad
The figure moved toward him,
smiling in its benevolent, easy way. It spoke in a voice that was clear
but much muted, as if blurred by some distance:
“Yes, I came. The pull of my old
presence is still very strong about this place. And I felt the great
anguish in your call. So, young Skywalker, why are you troubled?”
“How could I not be?” Luke echoed
with a touch of irony in his tone. “You were here when I was torn from my
life after my aunt and uncle were killed. And then I got caught up in
conflicts I didn’t really understand, handed a power that possessed me but
that I couldn’t really control. I nearly died a dozen times. I helped
destroy thousands of others, millions maybe. I discovered a sister I never
knew I had.”
“And you’re wondering now if
you’ve made the right choice,” Obi-Wan said philosophically. “I understand
your feelings. But, believe me, it was all for the best.”
“Was it?” Luke fired back,
astonished by the unruffled spirit’s seemingly flippant answer. “Ben, it’s
ultimately my fault that my father’s dead!”
happened to Anakin was of his own making, not yours...
and you pulled him from the Dark Side, Luke. You saved him!”
“I see that, Ben, but what have
I become? A killer for the Alliance, just like my father was for
“Of course you aren’t,” Kenobi
reasoned. “You’re nothing like what Anakin became. He surrendered himself
to the mastery of evil.”
“You and Master Yoda taught me
that a Jedi’s powers were defensive only, to be used in the service of
good. But what have I done with the Force except destroy?” His tones grew
more emotionally charged as he continued, the years of suppressed
feelings, once released, like a torrent welling from deep inside. “Ben,
when I started, I felt a nobility, an honor in becoming a Jedi Knight. I
was eager to go on your idealistic crusade. The feelings were
strong then, but... they’ve slipped away. Now, with the wars ending, I
feel even more lost. I’m not sure what I am, what I’m meant to do. Yoda
said I should pass on what I’ve learned, but I’m afraid to.” He fixed a
most searching, most desperate gaze on Kenobi. “I feel the power of the
Dark Side drawing near.”
Obi-Wan had listened to the
emotional outpouring with an expression of understanding. He responded
“Luke, Luke, don’t get caught up
in despair. It only gives the Dark Side greater leverage. Your confused
feelings are only natural in a new Jedi, especially one who has been so
haphazardly initiated as you. And I can help you.”
“You can?” said Luke with new
hope in his voice.
Obi-Wan nodded. “All Jedi
encounter... questions... from time-to-time. All experience pangs
of doubt or periods of weakness. And all suffer exhaustion in their
constant endeavors to serve the Force. But the true Jedi’s spirit can
always be renewed.”
“How?” Luke asked.
“You must seek a place known as
the ‘Heart of the Jedi.’ It can be found in the temple on the planet
Angorathea. It is strong with the Force. The threads of energy which
interweave to bind all life together have many crossings there. It is a
collection point, its concentrated power form a sort of gateway into the
pure essence of all being. There, you can truly become one with the Force.
There, you can gain restoration, understand the truth, and find the peace
you’re looking for.”
“Ok, how do I find this place?”
“It will not be easy,” Obi-Wan
cautioned. “The way is long and perilous. And you must make the pilgrimage
alone. Understand clearly: only a true Jedi can achieve it. You will have
to prove that the Force is truly with you. You will be tested both in mind
and body before you reach the Heart.”
“I’m ready Ben,” Luke stoutly
assured. “Just tell me.”
“Very well. The key to finding
Angorathea is inscribed within a milk-crystal bowl of mine kept here. Your
quest begins there and now, and you will not see me anymore until it is
done. So, I will say good-bye.”
On the last words, his image
began to dim.
“Crystal bowl? Here?” Luke said
with a return of despair. He swept his gaze around at the wreckage, then
back to the fading form. “Wait Ben! There’s nothing like that here. The
place has been looted. It must be gone!”
There was only a vague outline
left of the figure.
From out of the last glow came a
faint voice, saying simply:
“Then, finding it will be your
first test in this, won’t it? Trust in the Force, Luke. And, never doubt!”
With that, the glow was gone.
Luke stared at the point it had
been, face drawn in frustration. Then a light of understanding dawned.
“The bowl,” he said. “Sand
He turned and rushed from the
house, Artoo following.
Outside, he ran directly for his
ship, the little droid rolling close behind. Neither one was aware of
another presence there.
It was a figure in orange flight
suit and blue helmet now peering stealthily out around a side of the hut
to watch after them.
“‘Heart of the Jedi’!” it
murmured musingly to itself.
of the Jedi?” High Admiral Tharkus repeated. “Are you certain of
voice came clearly through the comm link’s speaker: “Certain,
High Admiral. I listened through a window. I heard everything perfectly.”
Tharkus was in
the office high in the Imperial headquarters tower. This time he was alone
but for General Kantos. The two sat together at the big desk. A playing
board with tapered figures of silver and gold that was set up between them
went neglected now as they listened to the report.
“And you’ve no
question that what you heard was true,” Tharkus said.
is,” replied the voice. “And very important to him. He came straight here
so swiftly I barely found a way to follow him.”
in, pressing the mute button on the communicator console. He addressed his
superior confidentially: “Sir,
he be trusted?”
“I would and
have bet my survival on it,” Tharkus assured. “The Dioskouroi are my
finest agents. Totally unstoppable.”
“How can that
be?” the general asked skeptically.
quite rare species who possess the ultimate in camouflage. Their molecular
construction allows them to absorb vast amounts of energy from their
surrounding atmosphere and transmute it to matter of any form. They are
the ultimate impostors, taking on the guise of any being they wish.”
“Shapeshifters!” Kantos exclaimed. “Like Clawdites?”
limited to humanoid form; more like the Shi’ido, of which they are an
exiled branch. Since we’ve known of their existence, most of the Shi’ido have
maintained neutrality in the affairs of the Republic and Empire; the
Dioskouroi held no such compunctions. That’s why I set one of them to
spying within their new Rebel base, hoping for some break. This might be it.”
He punched the
button again and spoke into the microphone, “Pollux, what is he doing
“I don’t know,
Sir,” said the voice. “Just hold a
On the planet
Tatooine, the helmeted and orange-suited figure climbed from the cockpit
of his X-wing and dropped to the ground.
ship sat in a small level patch atop a ridge. Rocky outcrops along the
edge made the fighter invisible from below. The one called Pollux walked
to the edge and climbed onto a boulder to peer cautiously down.
Just below, the hut
of Ben Kenobi was half visible beneath its drift of sand. In the open area
beyond could be seen the other X-wing, the tiny figures of Luke and Artoo
moving about by it.
the macrobinoculars hung about his neck and peered through them. Between
the upper and lower readout bands was a clear,
close image of man and droid.
Artoo stood by
watching his master rummaging through a
compartment in the ship’s side. The area was small, the stored materials
crammed in. Luke was struggling a bit to get something out.
At last he
jerked a fat duffel bag free and tossed it on the ground. But clearly this
wasn’t his sole goal. He plunged back in, shoved things around some more,
and finally pulled something else free.
It appeared to
be most unremarkable—a board-like object some three inches thick, five
feet long, rounded at one end and squared at the other. But from the
reaction of the Admiral’s
it was something significant.
immediately lowered his glasses and jumped from the rock, trotting back to
quickly up into the cockpit to resume his subspace radio link with Tharkus.
“High-Admiral,” he said urgently, “it appears he’s preparing to travel.
He’s just unpacked a hover-scooter from his ship.”
by X-wing?” Tharkus said with some surprise. “Where’s he going, then?”
“He needs a
bowl that was stolen,” Pollux explained.
spoke of the Sand People. They’re notorious raiders and thieves here. If
they took the object, my guess is he’s going after them.”
“To retrieve a
bowl?” said Tharkus.
“It holds a
clue to finding the planet, Sir.”
said, understanding. “Well then, stay with him Pollux. Report on where he
goes. If necessary, give him help, without his knowing it, of course. We
must see that Skywalker reaches this Angorathea of his.”
High-Admiral,” Pollux said briskly.
As he was
shutting off his radio link, his high-admiral was doing the same. Tharkus
turned to look at Kantos, a gleam of satisfaction in his eye.
certainly our chance, General,” he said with force. “A chance to defeat
the rebels after all!”
his head. “I don’t follow, Sir. How can following Skywalker do that?”
Pollux heard is true, this ‘Heart of the Jedi’ is a direct access to his
power. It must be the way he taps into this ‘Force’ of his. If we could
seize it for ourselves...” a note of longing came into his voice, “why, we
might even turn it to our use. Think, Kantos, what a weapon we’d have
then. Nothing could stop us.”
“But, what if
we can’t use it?” the other inquired.
destroy it!” Tharkus said ruthlessly. “And Skywalker as well. In one move
we wipe out the Force’s only champion and shut off its source. Either way,
the Jedi threat will be truly erased. The Force will no longer aide
enemy side. And without that they’ll be no match for us.” He picked up one
of the slender pieces, contemplating it gloatingly. “The game will be in
our hands once more. With Skywalker out of the picture, our people will
again be convinced that we can win. Support will come to us. And with our
full strength rallied, we will strike!”
He slammed the
piece back down on the board with a force that rattled its fellows.
about the Senate, Sir?” Kantos reminded. “Their peace initiative? They are
preparing to leave for the rendezvous right now.”
considered this for a moment. “We can’t let those misguided fools sell the
Empire into bondage before our plan bears fruit. No,” he said decisively.
“That meeting must not take place.”
move against the senators?” an astonished Kantos asked.
dismissingly. “Their act is traitorous. The worst kind of treachery. I’ve
no compunctions about eliminating them if need be.”
“That won’t be
so easy. The meeting place is a guarded secret, known only within their
ranks. They don’t trust the military at all.”
said Tharkus. He gave a sinister little smile. “I’ve some ideas about that
as well. Very soon, our senators will fall.”
With that, he
swept a hand through the midst of the pieces, cutting a wide swath across
the board as they toppled to either side.
picked the brown leather utility belt up from the sand.
He checked the
supply pouches, holstered blaster, and lightsaber hung from it to be
certain all were in order. Then he buckled the belt on over the wrap tunic
and trousers he now wore.
garments of a lightweight, beige material had replaced his
and uniform. They were much like the clothes he had worn there in his
youth—standard garb on the primitive desert planet.
As he fastened
the belt and settled it about his waist, he spoke in patient explanation
to the little droid
sitting close by.
you want to come with me, Artoo, but there just isn’t any way. The
scooter’s too small, and I can go faster alone. Besides, it’s too
dangerous in the desert for you. It’s best that you stay here.”
With the belt
adjusted, the young man took up a long, hooded robe of dark and
material, slipping it on. Artoo beeped and whistled back to him in tones
of clear dejection.
“Of course I
still need you, Artoo,” Luke answered it assuringly. “Just not this time.”
With the baggy
robe on and wrapped about him, the belt with its weapons was well hidden.
He stepped away to the X-wing.
hover-scooter’s base was the round-ended flat piece he had fished from
storage. It looked much like a speeder, but was too small for a cockpit,
seats, or full controls. Instead, a simple handlebar affair stuck up on a
curved rod from just behind the little bow, braking and accelerator
controls mounted at its grips. The whole apparatus floated in place some
foot above ground.
Luke gave it a
once-over, then stepped aboard, placing his feet in shallow depressions
halfway back and gripping the handlebars. The scooter sank a bit as it
took his weight, but swiftly recovered.
“Stay close to
the ship, Artoo,” Luke admonished. “But if there’s a storm, get inside.
You don’t want sand in your works. I’ll be back soon as I can.”
promise he gave one grip a twist. With a soft hum of power the vehicle
started forward, gliding across the sand. Luke gave the droid a backward
wave and cranked the power higher, sending the scooter shooting away.
Artoo looked after him with its single lens eye. A low sound came
from it that sounded distinctly like a lost puppy’s whine.
Pollux stared down at the scene through his glasses. He lowered them and
scrambled to his feet as Luke flashed away at ever increasing speed across
the open desert, shrinking swiftly to a dot.
He cast down
the glasses and stood poised a moment, body drawing up stiffly and growing
taut. Then a glow rose about him, an aura of blue-white light growing in
an instant to a brilliant chrysalis.
his body, swallowing all of its form but a vague shadow. That shadow
seemed to vibrate, grow softer, turn fluid, and change. And even though
much obscured by the glow, the alteration was a grotesque one as the human
shape contorted and stretched, changing to something else angular and
It was a swift
change, though, and in seconds the glow was fading, unveiling the
transformed being that now stood there.
It appeared to
be a flying scavenger
of the Tatooine wastelands known as an Iktar. A large, scaly creature of
pointed bill and peaked head, the diurnal counterpart of the sand bat, it
stood on splayed, taloned feet. What seemed a shawl enwrapping it unfurled
to reveal leathery wings as the being stretched them out to their full,
strode forward and boldly launched itself from a pinnacle of rock, sailing
into space. The wings caught the air to glide it well free of the ridge.
Then they began to flap, the being’s powerful muscles pumping rhythmically
to send it up higher, higher as it soared away.
after the receding form of the young Jedi, the shadow of its ominous shape
slithering across the rippling sands.
train snaked through the maze of ships and machines as it zipped across
the hangar floor, heading for the Millennium Falcon’s repair bay.
While a ground
crew saw to the big hoses satisfying the ship’s energy needs, Han Solo
himself stood by the gangway, overseeing the loading of supplies needed to
fuel the passengers.
One train of
supplies was already parked there, men unloading cargo from the cars and
carrying it up the ramp. Solo checked off the items on his computerized
clipboard as they went by
He stopped one
man going by with an unmarked crate. “Hold on. What’s that?”
energy bars,” the man replied. “We got ten cases here.”
Solo repeated, making a face of disgust. “They taste like tar-coated
gravel. Haven’t you got some fried pankott chips, or tannis rolls—you
know, the cream-filled ones?”
only ordered these,” the man said. “She said they were the most healthy
figured,” Han said glumly. He waved the man ahead. “Go on. Take ‘em
aboard.” As the man went on, he muttered, “This is gonna be one long
around for the next man in the line, but his attention was drawn away by
two others who had entered the bay and were approaching.
Princess Leia, accompanied by a man. They were walking close together,
warmly engaged in conversation. She laughed aloud at some comment of his,
her voice bright with sincere amusement.
As the pair
reached Han, he gave the man a once-over. Even the untailored Alliance
uniform couldn’t disguise that Leia’s new companion was a strappingly
built fellow of slender waist and broad shoulder, topping Solo’s height by
half a head.
He was also
somewhat younger in look and distinctly more handsome, cleanly featured,
with a well-chiseled nose, bold thrust of deep-cleft
chin, and wide forehead.
curling hair was a jet black hue, his wide-set eyes a clear, sky-blue. He
moved with both a noble’s grace and an athlete’s unconscious litheness.
his first assessment and
looked to her.
Sweetheart,” he drawled, “I was wondering when you’d get around to helping
pursed in disapproval at his use of the personal nickname when she was
here in her official capacity and with a stranger. Her reply was pointedly
“I’m afraid I
have to leave the loading preparations to you, General Solo. I’m rather
busy with other things now,”
noticed,” Solo looked the other man over again. “Who’s this?”
“I am Gowan of
Galvoni III,” that one swiftly volunteered in a gracious way. He thrust
out a hand to shake. “Most honored to meet you, General Solo. I’ve heard
much of your brave exploits,”
sure,” Solo said, thrown somewhat off-guard by his amiable manner. He took
the hand. “Glad to meet you.”
“Gowan’s father is King Caladane
of his planet,” Leia supplied.
Han said to him. “I suppose that makes you a prince.” He threw Leia a
little, crooked smile. “Looks like I’m sorta surrounded.”
“Oh, you know
that’s not important, Han,” she told him lightly, “What is
closely tied to the old Republic. His grandfather was Galvoni’s senator.
And he’s been brought up with enormous skills and vast experience in
The light of
realization dawned in Solo’s eyes. “You mean, he’s going with
course,” she replied, a
little puzzled by his response.
“You didn’t think
I’d be negotiating for the
alone? Gowan is very respected, on both sides. He’ll be a great asset.”
the younger man said modestly, “you make too much of me. My talents are
minor compared with your own.”
only saying that to be courteous,” she graciously returned. “What you’ve
accomplished for the Alliance! Why, just talking the Tunolans and the
Phundahl into joining us was miraculous.”
“Let’s call it
equal,” he told her, giving her a broad, gleaming grin which he then
turned on Solo, “You know, I look forward to having a most rewarding
relationship with Leia,” he announced, laying a hand upon her arm in an
easy, familiar manner. “We have a most astonishingly similar background.
I’m amazed we haven’t met before.” He looked back to her, adding
earnestly, “Very disappointed too.”
Han eyed the
hand in a jaundiced way. He noted that Leia did nothing to move it off.
like you’ll have time to catch up,” he
them both dryly. “If
you’ll excuse me now…”
He began to turn
away, but Leia stopped him.
Threepio? I wanted Gowan to meet him
too bad,” Solo returned off-handedly. “Chewie had to take the day
transport over to Eskendren City to find a spare dispersal rotor. I sent
Threepio along to pick up some other stuff. Liquor, mostly. You know they
don’t keep any of that here?”
“You mean, you
sent a protocol droid out to do errands?” Gowan asked in astonishment.
“Hey, a droid’s a droid.”
toward him, Gowan’s hand
“Han, we are
supposed to be leaving in twenty-four hours!” she pointed out in a low but
firm tone, clearly a bit vexed. “I’m responsible for this mission, you
your braids in a tangle, Your Highness,” he advised calmly. “They’ll be
back in time.” And as she opened her mouth to retort, he raised a hand to
stay her. “Sorry, no more time for a chat now. Got my fun little jobs to
do. See ya, folks.”
With that he
wheeled from them and strode away, not
The two looked
after him, Leia with frustration, Gowan quizzically.
sending a droid of that caliber on such a menial task,” he commented,
shaking his head. He looked at her. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Leia,
your friend has a rather crude way about him.”
got some rough edges, all right,” she agreed with a certain regret. Then
she turned to Gowan. “But never mind him,” she said more brightly, “I just
hope that Threepio gets back soon so I can tell him he’s coming along as
part of our negotiating team.”
cheap Forgan ale for Master Solo,” C-3P0 grumbled as he walked along,
nearly staggering beneath the burden of a large case. “How thoroughly
He pushed his
way ahead through the crowded streets of a warren-like city whose diverse
jumble of structures spread about him. The erratic, narrow streets were
half-clogged with market stalls where shouting vendors raised a cacophony
of shrill sales pitches. The space between them was a vast milling throng
of beings ranging from the very human to the extremely non-human, all
rubbing elbows and other odd bits of anatomy as they forced their way
this really is the depths for me,” the disgruntled droid went on. “A being
of my great erudition, trained in etiquette, instructed in over
forms of communication, here playing the slave for such an unappreciative
human as he. Why, even that great, hairy beast of a Wookiee has more
exalted tasks than I. Well, just let me tell you, if I had my own way...”
He had no
chance to finish.
shadows of an alley, black cloaked figures suddenly appeared. They grabbed
the droid and roughly
dragged him back. The dropped case of ale crashed
to the ground.
what’s happening?” Threepio cried in a voice rising higher with growing
alarm. “Who are you? Wait! This must be a mistake. You
have the wrong droid!
Please listen! No. No!
screamed word was cut off as he was shoved
through a doorway. A
metal portal swung closed behind him with a final-sounding “clang.”
silhouetted figure of the Iktar swept across the fiery disk of the larger
of Tatooine’s two suns.
Its spread of
shadow flashed over the form of Luke Skywalker far below, skimming the
surface of the desert on his hover-scoot. He looked around and upward,
noting the bird-like creature gliding high above and some way behind him.
But his gaze did not hold on this seemingly innocent thing for long. It
swiveled quickly back to the way ahead of him.
That was of
obvious necessity. The vista of even-colored sand looked flat, but it was
deceptively so. Low dunes swelled up often and unexpectedly. With the
scooter moving at a high speed, it needed all of Luke’s careful attention
and lightning reflexes to swivel-hip his way through them.
He did this
literally, using his body, the simple vehicle having no other steering
gear. A lean left or right banked the floating platform, the subtlety of
the move decreeing the acuteness of the turn.
More and yet
more of what seemed endless desert scrolled toward and under him from the
horizon as he zoomed ahead. That the search had been a long one was
attested to by the fatigue showing in his face and the accumulated dust
coating his clothes. Still he stared doggedly out across the monotonous
landscape of brown sand wavy with rising heat.
to the right of him caught his eye. He looked toward it, blinking against
the light. He stared hard and blinked again.
definitely showed there, like dusky ovals just visible against the lighter
slightly right and brought the scooter around toward them. As he
approached, he noted a higher curve of dune threw a sheltering arm about
one side of the odd spots. He altered course to make for this and put its
cover between himself and them.
He slowed as
he neared the dune, gliding to a full stop at its base. He scanned the
scene around him. There was nothing but the arid waste.
Still he was
wary as he dismounted from the scooter. He pulled the hood up over his
head to increase his camouflage before climbing the sandy slope, moving
slowly and keeping well crouched. He went completely prone as he neared
the top, crawling the last yards to the crest on hands and knees.
He peered over
the dune. Before him was spread a number of what seemed to be wide,
circular holes clustered close around a central, much larger one.
His face lit
with a smile of triumph. It was swiftly displaced by a grim look of
determination. He scanned the area carefully again. Still there were no
signs of life—no beings or machines, not a footprint or track, not even a
smell or sound save those of baking sand and gusting breeze. He rolled on
one side, reaching into his robe and drawing out his blaster.
But he paused
there, contemplating the weapon thoughtfully. Shaking his head, he slipped
it back away. Then he crawled forward.
stealthily, he made his way down the dune’s other slope and onto the flat
area. He went down again as he approached the rim of the nearest hole,
sliding on his belly up to its edge.
cautiously indeed he poked his head over enough to see down. He looked
into a sheer-sided pit over three dozen feet across. It was clearly an
artificially formed hole, like that of his old home’s atrium. It was just
as clearly also a dwelling place.
openings to underground chambers were visible around the outsides of the
pit. Some pieces of crude, chiseled-stone furniture were set
here-and-there, along with some large pieces of pottery. They surrounded a
central plot of darker soil where a garden of some straggling plants was
being cultivated in neat rows.
down with open interest at all this, sticking his head farther out to see
it better, seeming to forget his risky position here.
But a movement
below recalled it to him, and he drew his head back just as a figure
appeared from one of the openings.
He had a quick
glimpse of something rather dumpy and shapeless, wrapped in flowing folds
of material bright-dyed in purples, yellows and reds. Then he was edging
slowly backward from the pit, preparing to crawl away to a safer position.
abruptly, a look of consternation on his face. His right hand had struck
jerked around. His gaze fell on the thing. It was the toe of a boot. His
gaze shot from it up the length of a robed figure to the grotesque face
Luke got an
instant’s impression of round goggling eyes, protruding mouth, and
trunk-like tubes running from nostrils to neck as his hand darted for his
But even his
reflexes were not quick enough. Before he could grip it, the club end of a
stick had swung down, striking his temple a glancing but hard blow.
knocked him sideways and he rolled over, landing hard, face slamming down
into the sand, body going limp.
figure stood over him a moment, as if in victory. Then it reversed its
weapon. The stick’s other end was fitted with a long, slender blade of
bright-honed metal. The being used a barb near the point to catch the edge
of Luke’s hood and draw it back, exposing the human face.
Then the blade
dropped lower to press its keen tip deep into the bared nape of the
defenseless Jedi’s neck.
The human hand
slid a slender, socket-like device down firmly over the length of the gold
The hand of
flesh pulled back then, its task complete. All the fingers of the metal
one had been fitted with the sockets. From the outer ends of each, coiling
wires ran upward.
C-3P0 could do
very little about his hand being treated in this way. The golden droid was
at the moment being even more than normally restrained. His body was
immobilized by shackles about wrists, ankles, waist and neck. He was held
rigidly upright, his back tight against an appropriately tombstone-shaped
slab of grey metal atop a round platform.
being was virtually festooned with wires. Besides his other hand being
outfitted like his first, there were wires running from odd boots upon his
feet and from nodules atop a colander-like helmet contraption on his head.
All ran upward
to form a thick bundle suspended from a boom whose arm hung close above.
The poor droid
could move nothing but his head, and that only within a narrow range.
Still, this was enough to give him a view of much of the room, and more
than enough to confirm that it was a very bleak prospect he faced.
The place was
apparently a deep basement of some kind, windowless and dank. Its rough
stone walls shone with streaks of moisture. A narrow stair angled upward
to a single doorway high above.
It was a
storage room, with crates and barrels of all types stacked
everywhere—except in the middle of the floor. Here a round area had been
cleared, and hastily too by the look of the goods that had been piled
haphazardly about its periphery.
In this open
circle sat the platform of the droid and, some twenty feet away, a chunky,
complex, and rather malevolent-looking mass of machinery.
also a number of men in the room. All were Imperials. Two working about
the machinery were in dark officer’s uniforms. A dozen others were in the
white armor of stormtroopers. They guarded the door and formed a wide ring
about the cleared area, weapons at ready.
One of the two
officers was just backing down from the low platform, having made the last
attachment to the droid. He was Lieutenant Voss, one of the young aides to
Voss eyed his
handiwork critically, gaze running up the wires, following them overhead
and across to another support pole and then down to where they entered the
unpleasant pile was also a most impressive collection of ugly attachments
and protrusions, uncountable switches and buttons, readout screens and
monitors pouring out unknown data, flashing and flickering and stuttering
and pulsing lights forming an unsettling display.
all hooked up properly then,” Voss pronounced with great satisfaction.
“Don’t you think so, Doctor?”
addressed was an elderly, pudgy little man with a straggling grey goatee
and wild, thinning hair. He worked over his instruments in a most harried
manner. At the other man’s words he looked up distractedly.
He glanced briefly at the wires. “Yes, yes,” he said brusquely. “Now let
me finish my own work.”
at him for this short-shrift, clearly not very much enamored of the man.
The uncaring doctor busily adjusted more controls and punched more
buttons. A faint hum of power arose from the machine, growing louder. The
screens and displays began disgorging streams of figures with frenzied
at all this quite fixedly. He spoke up now with a distinctly urgent tone:
officer looked around to him. “Yes?”
“I hate to be
a nuisance, but I really must ask why you are doing this. It was my
understanding that you and my masters were not to be enemies anymore. You
are about to make peace.”
wrong, droid,” Voss responded coldly, striding back to the platform. “Only
some of us are. Or, are planning to. And that is exactly why you
are here.” He stepped onto the platform, thrusting his face up close to
Threepio’s. “We wish to learn only one thing from you” he said in a
menacing way. “Where will the meeting be?”
“But, I assure
you, I can’t tell you that,” the droid told him earnestly. “I don’t know.
An exact location hadn’t been arranged yet when I left.”
Voss cracked a
smug little smile and stepped back. “Ah, that we were aware of,” he
casually informed the droid, “We believe you when you say you’ve no idea.”
Threepio said in puzzlement. “But then, why drag me down here? Why this?”
will know. And then you will tell us.”
“I?” The droid
was incredulous, “How?”
this transmitter,” Voss lifted a closed hand and opened it, showing
Threepio a small disk on his palm, “which we will implant in you. And,
using a special code, you will send a message to us just as soon as the
destination is learned.”
“And just what
makes you think I would cooperate in such a treacherous act?” the droid
said indignantly, pulling himself defiantly up as much as his fetters
have no choice in that,” the smirking Voss replied. He gestured back
toward the pudgy man as he stepped down from the platform. “You see, our
good Doctor here is well adept in A. I. T.”
Intelligence Transmogrification?” Threepio amplified, fear entering his
“You begin to
understand, droid. Good.” Voss walked back to join the other man. “Yes,
the doctor has devised a system that will most effectively reprogram you.
You will serve our needs now.”
“I will not,”
Threepio said stoutly, summoning his courage again.
This came from the doctor himself, who had paused in his work to join the
discussion. “I have not had a failure yet,” he said proudly.
“It will take
more than some infernal mind-twisting device to make me betray my
companions and cause,” the droid told him.
that, Voss?” the doctor said with fascination. “His cause. And his
companions yet! An amazing amount of human loyalty for a droid. Never
have I seen such personality. It is a pity, in a way.”
picked up on that “Pity? Why?”
process will override it in substituting ours. And, I’m afraid the
alteration is quite irreversible. So, good-bye.”
With that he
flipped a final switch.
The humming of
the machine increased to a roar. Power sizzled along the mass of wires and
crackled from the scores of connecters to the droid. Silver tendrils of
energy flickered over his metal skin. His eyes flared to the brightness of
twin spotlights. His form shuddered with the immense force coursing
The grey slab
he was fastened against started to glow, changing swiftly to incandescent
white as if from immense heat. The platform on which he stood began
glowing too, and a curved wall of white light, like a translucent glass
capsule, rose up from it to surround the vibrating form, hiding it from
But out of
that column of blinding luminescence there came a single, long, and rising
cry of pain.
The light was
an intense, red-gold blaze that seemed to consume all space.
opened his eyes and squintingly looked into it. Slowly his gaze focused.
The glow resolved into the light of Tatooine’s twin suns right above. He
was flat on his back looking straight into the sky.
He stared up
in a disoriented way for a moment. Then he turned his head to one side.
himself looking into the black eye sockets of a skull.
widened in shock. It was a semi-human skull that stared back at him,
having pronounced brow ridges and small tusks. An enterprising desert
spider had taken the rare bit of shelter for a nest, filling its gaping
jaws with web.
and tried to rise. He found quickly that this was impossible. He struggled
a bit harder but remained flat on his back. Lifting his head as high as he
could, he strained to look around.
He was now
stretched out spread-eagle on the sand, chained hand-and-foot to metal
stakes. He had been stripped down to his trousers, the white flesh of his
torso exposed to the merciless Tatooine suns. Exposed to something else,
too. A curious, golden goo with a pungently sweet smell had been poured on
his chest and was slowly oozing down his sides.
sap,” he identified in a wondering voice already growing husky from a
With an effort
he lifted up higher for a broader view. He could see he was in a round,
open area of hard-packed earth. It was quite flat except for slender,
serpentine runs of dune crisscrossing in the sand sea that lay all about
the small island of solid ground. And he wasn’t alone there. Spread around
him were the remains of many others who had clearly suffered the same fate
which was now meant for him.
A score of
endo and exoskeletons from various lifeforms were all staked out as he.
Not rotted away as by weather and time. Not torn apart as by scavengers.
Just stripped down to their bare, sun bleached, sand-blasted shells or
cheerless prospect Luke turned his attention to his restraints. He yanked
experimentally at the chains. They were of very strongly forged links. He
examined the metal handcuffs. They were secured by cotter pins at his
wrists beyond his fingers’ reach.
his strength to first pulling a leg stake and then an arm. His sinewy body
grew taut with effort as he tried brute force. But the rods were too deep
in the hard ground to be pulled out toward him, and the yard-long length
of chain gave him no leverage to pull them up. He abandoned this struggle
Of course his
belt, including the lightsaber, was gone. He couldn’t have reached the
weapon with a hand, but he almost certainly could have with the Force.
He looked carefully about him once again, clearly contemplating where that
power might best be put to use.
His gaze lit
on one of the stakes above his head. He fixed his eyes on it, brow
furrowing in concentration.
moments nothing happened. But Luke’s focus didn’t waver. And finally, only
infinitesimally at first, the stake began to quiver.
his effort, face drawing tighter, reaching toward the stake with outspread
fingers as if beckoning it to him. It shook harder, loosening itself.
His whole body
vibrated with the strain. Sped by the movement, a trail of the viscose
gold sap ran on down his side. A fat drop of it formed and fell, plopping
to the ground in a puff of dust.
this, Luke strained on. The stake now began to edge upward. It moved only
a millimeter at a time, but it was definitely lifting. It was coming out!
globule plashed onto the ground, its moisture absorbed instantly into the
A small but
peculiar noise broke Luke’s concentration. He paused and listened. It was
a faint drumming blended with a hissing sound.
around to find its source, but it stopped.
searched the surroundings. There was nothing but him and his wasted
Then the sound
came again, this time continuing. He located its direction and stared in
growing wonder. In the surrounding sand a new line of dune was forming as
he watched, and it was running straight toward him.
stopped abruptly some dozen feet away, on the edge of the hard-surface
area. The end of the low ridge throbbed, wriggled, and swelled larger.
From the sand atop it, something popped into view.
It was two
The eyes were
armored with a coat of scales save at their gold, slit-irised pupils. They
swiveled back, up, down, forward and around, turning nearly 360 degrees
and quite independently.
With the area
thoroughly scanned, they both switched back toward him. Luke met their
gaze, his expression one of mixed curiosity and concern.
judging Luke safely helpless, the rest of the thing at last rose into
view, like a sea creature surfacing from the waves. The sand poured away
around it to leave the form of a scavenging dune maggot fully exposed.
It was a large
creature, eighteen inches wide and two feet long. The compact body was
squat and low to the ground. A broad back and tapered tail were covered
with thick scales, while its domed head was a single, hard, smooth plate,
all of brownish-grey. The two eyes protruded from the top of this dome,
giving the thing a full range of vision. No other features—nose, mouth,
ears, claws or legs—were visible.
still, breath held, just watching, waiting to see what it would do. He
hadn’t long to wait. After eying him some seconds longer, it lifted
slightly and something snaked out from beneath its front.
It was a long,
red, segmented tendril, rather like a worm, save that it was lined with
tiny barbs. It crept forward onto the hard ground as if an exploring
creature of its own, pausing with tip raised and quivering, seeming to
sniff the air.
It felt its
way out across the entire open space from the armored creature to Luke, at
last reaching the golden splats of the thick ooze dripped beside him. The
tip sniffed around a spot of sap, then touched it lightly, in a licking
It lifted up,
quivering more sharply, stretching out toward him and toward the pool of
the liquid coagulating on his chest.
suddenly forward, a length of it lashing across him, the tip diving into
the sap. Luke winced with pain, throwing himself about as violently as he
could to shake it off.
worked. The tendril jerked in alarm and slid off. The barbs of it left a
long, inflamed welt across his skin.
He watched the
tongue draw back, like a line reeled in, to vanish beneath the creature.
But the brief taste of the sweet gold liquid seemed to have been enough to
bring it to action.
drumming sound came from it as it vibrated its tail against the sand. It
was making a call, and the call was answered soon. In moments a dozen
others like it surfaced from the sand all around the area.
With the rest
of its clan gathered, the first creature made the initiating move. It
lifted from the sand.
It exposed its
means of propulsion: rows of tiny feet, like a millipedes. It also exposed
It was at once
obvious how the other hapless victims had been stripped. The creature had
no jaws, just a round, soft, sucker mouth that pulsed open and closed like
smacking lips, as if in anticipation of a new feast. And within that
suction ring were lines of needle-sharp teeth, the throat’s flexing
muscles meshing and gnashing them constantly.
His flesh was
destined to be suctioned from its bones and ground to pieces in this
living food processor.
creatures stayed put atop their tunnel mounds. Only this one who seemed to
be their scout began a slow, wary crawl forward from the safety of its
sand ocean onto the hard ground.
his predicament, Luke wasted no more time. His only chance of escape was
to free himself before these beings latched onto him. To do that he could
pay no more heed to them or to his danger. All his will, all his
attention had to be put to using the Force.
He turned away
from the approaching maggot and looked back to the stake. His face
squeezed tight with his concentration. Again, slowly, slowly, the stake
began to rise.
long seconds it was a snail race between creature and stake. The animal
covered half the distance to Luke on its churning little legs. The stake
crept up three inches, six inches, a foot. But there seemed to be no end
to the thing!
paused, and its long tongue shot again from the pulsing mouth, this time
swiftly snaking across to rise and slap across his chest,
Luke jerked at
the stinging blow, but he held on, forcing his full attention to staying
at his task, ignoring the swollen stripe left as the tongue drew back. But
the dune maggot, emboldened by the man’s lack of response, crawled ahead
lifted another half-foot. Was it moving with a bit more speed now? Luke
redoubled his effort, murmuring the words, “...never doubt...never
doubt...never doubt...” as if they were a focusing mantra to further
channel his output.
scooted right up to his side. Its sucker lips stretched out to touch the
liquid that had dripped next to him. Its tail thumped the ground
the others began to crawl forward.
Luke kept up
his effort. He couldn’t let the increasing peril distract him. The stake
was out of the ground a good two feet now, moving with a clearly greater
beside him lifted up its head section and fixed its suction mouth against
He gasped at
the pain, but his control didn’t waver. With a last surge of effort, he
beckoned to the stake with a straining hand.
The metal rod
lifted another foot and then jerked hard sideways, pulling its last twelve
inches from the ground.
It shot across
the sand to slap its middle into the palm of Skywalker’s waiting hand.
hesitation, Luke lifted his freed arm, swept the rod around, and in one
swift, powerful action slammed its pointed end down into the maggot’s
cracked through the scales just behind the armored head, the heavy stake
plunging on through the body and driving deep into the sand.
green-yellow blood bubbled and sprayed from the hole. The impaled creature
thrashed madly, tail drumming a death tattoo on the sand. Its sucker mouth
pulled free of him, working spasmodically in its final throes. The tongue
lashed out at him, slapping across his arm, but this was a last act.
Tongue and owner both went limp at once.
the stake out of the dead creature and looked around, holding the metal
rod up defensively.
But the others
had been frightened back by the killing of the first. They’d swiftly
withdrawn to the edge of the sand. Only that far, however. They
hadn’t completely abandoned their dinner table.
wasn’t over yet, and he still wasn’t free.
forced himself to ignore them and focus the Force on the other hand stake.
His experience with the first had apparently honed his skill to do this
special task, for the rod began to quiver and then to rise almost at once.
Just as well,
too, for the death of the one creature hadn’t intimidated the rest very
much. In just a few moments they had all begun to crawl toward him again,
tongues flicking out.
yanked the second stake free just as they closed. This time the pack of
beings was not to be denied their meal. They attacked him all at once.
They darted in
from every side with sudden bursts of speed, tongues lashing out to whip
across him in an attempt to distract him as they angled for a chance to
affix their mouths to his flesh.
back furiously with a long stake in either hand. He used the two as swords
to slash and thrust out at the swarming maggots as best he could while
still chained down by the legs.
The battle was
desperate, savage, but quite brief. In a few moments three more of the
creatures lay thrashing in their death throes while the rest, some
grievously wounded, beat a full retreat.
the stakes held ready, until the last one reached the sand and crawled
painfully back into its mound, trailing a thick stream of its mucus-like
blood from a gushing hole.
He took a deep
breath of relief and exhaustion and lowered the makeshift weapons. He
looked down at himself to assess damage. His bare torso and arms were
laced with red welts from the dune maggots’ lashing tongues, his whole
body soaked in their sticky blood.
But he was
free and he was still alive.
Force” he said aloud to the sky. Then he set about the work of releasing
himself from the cuffs of his chains.
unnoticed, the form of a large, leathery-winged being cruised on in lazy
circles while keeping its close watch over events below.
swaddled loosely in the bright bands of cloth worked to hang wet skeins of
just-dyed fabric on a drying line.
were strung on poles across the floor of one of the open pits. The two
beings stood with baskets beside them, lifting out the still-dripping
material, draping it and carefully spreading it out. Three lines were
already filled with the stuff, whose vivid purples, yellows, and reds
suggested it would end up as more of the enwrapping cloth.
A few similar
but smaller living forms, swathed like the others into shapeless bundles,
crawled or chased around the workers, seemingly at play.
peeked down at them, then withdrew from the pit’s edge. He crawled on, but
paused again at the edge of the next opening. A very strong and very gamey
odor was wafting up from this one. He paused to peer down into it too.
This pit was
being used as a sort of corral. It held a number of the ponderous horned
and wooly beasts called banthas, which the Sand People used for transport.
They stood about placidly or ate of dried scrub piled in a stone trough.
Luke went on,
making his way between two more openings, boldly moving toward the largest
excavation at the center of the rest.
Here he peered
cautiously down again. This larger atrium was ringed by only four holes
widely spaced. Instead of a central cultivated plot, there was a round
stone platform. And that was surrounded by several concentric rings of
curved, stone benches. Clearly this Sand People structure was used as
moved in the area below. Luke raised his head and looked around him at the
surface. There were also no signs of life there. He took a deep breath,
drew up into a crouch, and hopped over the edge.
prowess of a Jedi carried him down to land lightly and roll immediately
into the cover of a bench. He peered out from its shelter. There was still
nothing. The black holes of the openings stayed empty.
bench rings for cover, he crept up close to one doorway and looked
through. The shadows beyond were deep in contrast with the bright outside.
Nothing but some vague shapes was visible.
He sat still a
moment, face drawn in consideration. His unarmed intrusion here was
certainly a daring one. How far could he go?
The answer to
that was given when he stood up and, with a look of grim resolution, moved
to the door.
around the side of the opening into the interior, saw nothing, and brashly
immediately he was backing out again. As he came into the sunshine, the
light glinted on the point of a spearhead pressed against his bare
breastbone. This was followed by the length of a gaffi stick and then the
one who held it.
one was a most imposing figure indeed. The humanoid being was no doubt a
warrior of the Sand People, clad in a typical brown burnoose. From a
height of at least seven feet it stared down at him through the goggling
eyepieces of its desert survival mask.
mouth was covered by a filtration device with a front grill like three
protruding tusks. Below this was suspended the vaporation canister of the
simple breathing apparatus. A row of keen spikes thrust up from the brown,
wrinkled rags swathing the large head. There seemed to be no protuberance
for a nose, although the long, cone-shaped objects that stuck out from
each cheek might have been meant for the nostrils.
backed Luke well out into the open with the threat of his weapon. The
young Jedi tried a reasoning approach:
“Look, I’m not
here to hurt you. Believe me, I’m no enemy. I only want to find
There was no
response at all to this. The being stood like stone.
sorry I don’t know your language. That doesn’t mean we can’t communicate.
There must be some way.”
there came from the tall figure a brief flurry of grunts and guttural
sounds, wholly unintelligible.
something anyway,” the young Jedi said hopefully. “My name is Luke.” He
pointed to his chest. “Luke Skywalker.” He pointed to the other, “And
In response to
this the figure lifted its head and gave forth a loud, low, trumpeting
sound that echoed from the walls of the pit.
wasn’t what I was hoping for, Luke said. He looked around him with
swiftly realized. At once figures appeared from the other doorways. A
score of similarly armed and clad warriors swarmed quickly out to form
around Skywalker, the outthrust spear-ends of their gaffi sticks making a
all around him at the grotesque faces, gauging what to do. He looked up to
the rim two dozen feet above. Too high even for a Jedi’s leap.
attention was brought back to the figures by the raised voices of those
around him. Several were speaking up in their snarling, barking speech.
They were directing terse, hostile phrases at the tall one who had caught
him, and that being was responding as aggressively. They definitely seemed
to be having an argument.
seemed to lose his temper and, with a snarl, drove in at Luke, thrusting
out with his stick.
Luke could move to defend himself, the tall one had swung in a quick
countermove, knocking the other back.
The tall one
turned his gaze around at the rest, holding his gaffi stick up menacingly.
No more challenged him.
the tall warrior repeated emphatically, gesturing toward one opening.
To this there
were answering murmurs of “O-Tal,” and nodded heads. The group apparently
pointed his stick at Luke, then lifted the weapon toward the doorway in a
clear gesture to his captive to go ahead.
argument,” said Luke readily. He was only too pleased to obey the one
amongst his captors who seemed to wish to keep him alive. At least, for
The tall one
moved back and let Luke walk before him, through the same doorway the
young Jedi had just tried to enter. The warrior and then his fellows
followed close behind.
into what at first was a most dim room, lit only by the low flames of a
few bowl-shaped lamps on poles. But his eyes soon adjusted, allowing him
to see the surroundings clearly.
stuccoed walls and domed ceiling were covered with elaborate frescoes of
stylized creatures, abstract shapes, and geometric patterns done in browns
and golds. There were thick woven carpets with similar patterns on the
stone floor. Other furnishings were extremely sparse. There was a pile of
large pillows on the room’s far side, and along one wall was a low table
filled with an odd assortment of objects.
attracted Luke’s gaze. He took note of a power blender, the mechanical arm
from a service droid, a pillow embroidered with a waterfall, an ivory
handled dagger in a gold sheath, and a silver-framed mirror. But his
attention fell most on a globe-shaped object of what seemed a smooth,
milk-white glass. His eye lit with mixed recognition and elation.
People trooped in behind him. All but the large warrior lined up facing
the platform. That one stepped close to it. With the club end of his
stick, he struck a round, beaten-brass gong suspended beside it. The
“clang” of the gong sounded loudly in the enclosed space.
back to stand beside Luke.
will come soon,” a harsh, deep, rolling, guttural voice said to Luke.
The young man
looked around and up in wide-eyed astonishment to the source of the voice.
It was the tall warrior beside him.
The being was
not making more unintelligible sounds this time. He was speaking in Luke’s
of the Jedi
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
Kenneth C. Flint
Find his other books at:
See his author Facebook page at:
“You speak my language?” Luke said to the tall warrior. Both his surprise
and a note of renewed hope were clear in his voice.
“It was learned from one of you,” came the slowly enunciated reply as the
being searched out the right words of a tongue little used. “A strange
holy man of your kind who lived alone in the wastes taught me. The
‘Wizard’ we called him.”
“You mean Ben Kenobi?” asked Luke, yet more amazed.
“Yes. Of all your kind, he was special. Touched by the gods.”
“If he was considered special,” Luke said, “then why did you tear his home
“We did not,” the other said. “We removed some objects we felt were of
great meaning to him, to keep them safe. Other bands who did not know him
raided his dwelling later. Our tribe recognized a… a power about
him and left him alone. He helped us in return. He became our friend.” The
tall one drew up, adding proudly, “And it was I, Jattal Or, who was chosen
to learn from him so we might speak together. Rarely has this been done by
the Ghorfas people.”
said Luke to himself. Then, to the warrior he said earnestly, “He was also
my friend. He taught me too.”
this,” the being replied. “I sensed about you the same power I felt in
him. It is part of the reason why you are still alive. Only our Chieftain,
our O-Tal, will decide if it will keep you so.”
brief exchange, other warriors of the race had been entering the room.
There were some fifty of them now, filling the open area before the piled
cushions. All waited patiently in a kind of reverential hush.
The one they
awaited now made his own entrance, coming in through a curtained opening
in the back wall.
He was of
thicker-set form than the rest, clad in a full flowing robe apparently
made of the grey-green hides from several Dewback lizards which had been
stitched together. Its voluminous skirts still barely wrapped the beefy
figure with its broad shoulders and barrel chest. The being’s masked head
was massive, square, and topped with a circle of spikes of gleaming
silver, as if they were a crown.
He stopped as
he came in and his gaze fell on Skywalker. He spoke out in a jumbled mass
of deep, booming consonants which still managed to convey his obvious
The one called Jattal Or translated for Luke:
“Our O-Tel is much amazed that our desert friends did not clean your
bones, pale one.”
The tall warrior then returned a long speech, to which the O-Tel listened.
The chieftain then relied, stepping forward to look the young Jedi up and
down more searchingly as he did.
“I told him you had escaped from both the Dune Maggots and the stakes,”
Jattal Or supplied to Luke, “but whether this was done by force or by
cunning, I did not know. He said that, either way, your powers must be
unusual, for such a thing has never happened before within this clan’s
“I was lucky,” Luke said modestly.
“Then you should not have stretched that luck by returning here,” Jattal
Or told him.
The O-Tal turned and strode back to the cushions. He eased his bulk slowly
down on the pile. It flattened considerably as it took the weight. He
stared again at Luke for some moments, then spoke out demandingly.
“He wishes to know what you were after,” the tall warrior explained. “Was
it your weapons? That floating board of yours?”
“Something more, O-Tal,” Luke said directly to the chief. “An object that
your people... took from the
house of a friend of mine.” He pointed. “That milk-crystal bowl there.”
Jattal Or translated. The O-Tal glanced toward the bowl and then back to
Luke. His reply came with much tone of indignation.
“Took?” the big man interpreted for Luke, supplying the indignant tone as
well. “Stole is what you mean, don’t you? Your kind always
supposes us thieves, bandits, cutthroats of the worst kind.”
“You did scavenge things from Ben Kenobi’s place, didn’t you?” Luke
countered, this time speaking directly to Jattal Or. “And maybe from my
uncle’s moisture farm, too?”
“Ah, so you were of that Anchorhead farm dwelling?” the tall warrior said
with raised eyebrow. “We thought they all were dead—killed by the
white-armored warriors years ago. But it was other tribes, not our own,
The O-Tal put in a testy interruption here. Jattal Or bowed low.
“I have forgotten myself,” said the warrior to Luke. Our Chieftain wishes
He proceeded to pass Luke’s words on to his O-Tal. The other listened,
nodded, then replied.
“‘Yes,’ he says,” Jattal Or translated. “Certainly we went through that
long-abandoned place, and the one of the old wizard too. It was our right.
Those places were our own until you stole them from us.”
“We didn’t do that,” said Luke, thrown on the defensive now. “My
uncle’s grandfather bought that farm from the land dealers.”
“Who got all their lands by running off or killing any of our people who
lived upon them,” the clan chief responded bitterly through his warrior.
“So it was all over Tatooine when the Offworlders came. The best of the
lands and the dwellings were taken by them, and we forced out into the
worst territories left.”
“I never knew about any of that,” Luke told him earnestly. “None of us
know anything about you. Nothing about your customs, your language, how
“No. So you just assumed we were savages or, worse, less than beasts.”
“It’s not entirely our fault,” Luke argued. “You hide away out here, never
make any contact with settlers, wear masks...”
“The ‘mask,’ as you call it, shields us from sand and sun, filters air,
preserves our breath’s moisture, and keeps us alive in the harsh climate
that you have driven us to. We hide to preserve what life and possessions
we still have. And if we do take revenge upon those who have defiled our
homes and shrines, then that should be our right, as few others are left
Behind the listening clans, and all but ignored by them, another masked
warrior came into the room. He had
a face piece
that had been damaged somehow, a ragged tear marring the cloth of one
cheek, one eye goggle knocked askew, and two spikes gone. As the talk
continued, the latecomer quietly joined with the rest and stood intently
sorry for the way you’ve been treated,” Luke was explaining through Jattal
Or. “I really am. But, now that I know more about you, maybe I can help.
We could work together. Have a better relationship...”
“We have no
wish to be closer to you,” the big warrior passed back to him from the
chief in a brusque way. “All that we wish is to be left alone.”
then,” Luke said agreeably. “We could stay separate, but we could still
live together with more mutual respect. There could be more
communications, maybe. Trade. I mean, most of your raiding is to get goods
and tools for survival, isn’t it? Maybe some understanding could make life
easier for you.”
When Jattal Or
translated this, there were murmurings in the assembly at the offer. Some
sounded pro, some con. But the cons seemed predominant. The O-Tal
listened, considered, then shook his head.
responded firmly through Jattal Or. “The Clans of the Ghorfas have lost
much, but not their true spirit. We will not open ourselves to see that
spirit despoiled for a reward, no matter how great.” The
immense spirit of pride welling out from the
chief also filled the robust, rolling voice of the warrior as he went on.
“You and your people will come and go, but we have always been here and
always will be. We are as with the sand of our desert: the ill winds may
blow it from place to place, but still the grains endure.”
Luke listened gravely, musingly to this. He sighed and nodded his
“I understand you, O-Tal, better than you might think,” he said sincerely.
“I admire your knowing so certainly just who you are and grasping so
fiercely to it. All right. So, if you won’t deal, then, what about me?
What will you do?”
“Your violation of our clan precincts should mean swift execution,” the
other replied. “But the words of Jattal Or weigh heavily. Like him, I also
feel the strange energy of the old Wizard in you. And it does seem as if
destiny has decreed something else for you. If a greater power is at work
here, we dare not defy it. You must have at least some chance to win
“How, by a trial of some kind?” Luke guessed.
The O-Tal explained. Jattal Or translated tersely:
“You against our clan’s champion. To the death. Should you win, your
transport and weapons will be returned, and you will be let go.”
champion,” said Luke. He ran an appraising eye up the towering form of the
warrior beside him. “Let me guess. It’s you.”
When Jattal Or
translated that, the O-Tal gave a robust laugh. He clapped his hands
sharply and called out: “Dovra Ackru!”
of the doorway shivered as someone started through.
get worse,” murmured Luke.
the curtain stepped a figure who made Jattal Or seem almost of average
size. Both broad and tall, he towered over Luke’s comparatively slight
Ackru,” introduced the interpreter. “Our finest warrior!”
warrior’s response was a low, sharp growl, like than of an irritated
Rancor that had missed a meal.
“Nice to meet
you,” Luke said politely, forcing his mouth up in a somewhat tight smile.
The muscles of
Han Solo’s face tightened with effort as he heaved upward on the piece of
he gasped through the strain, “whaddya got packed in these... planetary
managed to wrestle the big traveling case out of the cart of the baggage
train and set it down next to a half-dozen others already lined up on the
hanger bay floor.
Falcon sat with boarding ramp open, ready to receive the cargo of luggage.
Gowan and Leia stood by it, watching Solo work.
clothes,” she told him defensively, “All necessary for the mission.”
grunted Solo, hefting another one out. “Necessary? What happened to
“This is a
protocol expedition, not a military one,” she explained. “There are many
formalities to be observed, including the proper dress.”
old man,” Gowan put in. “You know, you might do with a bit of a sprucer
yourself. Do you possess garments besides those you have on?”
down at his battered old boots, worn trousers and vest, and frayed shirt.
possess other garments,” he replied acerbically. Look, ‘old man’ when
you’re in a war, there’s no time for a wardrobe... at least not for a
said Gowan, bridling himself at the insinuation, “do you mean to imply
stepped in. “Look, boys, could we just get the things aboard? There are
only three hours left until we’re supposed to be taking off.”
“Okay Princess. Whatever you say.” He picked up one case with an effort,
using both hands. Then he looked to Gowan. “You wanna give me a hand with
stepped over. He picked up a case in each hand as if they weighed nothing,
shot Solo a disdainful glance, and walked off toward the ramp.
after him with resentment, then looked around at Leia.
“Ah, he took
the light ones,” he said with scorn.
In reply, Leia
took up a case herself with apparent ease, gave him a little grin, and
followed after Gowan.
her go, looked down at his own case in disbelief, shook his head, and
started after her. But he stopped as a voice called to him:
“Han! Wait a
around to see Wedge striding toward him. He stopped to wait, letting the
other two go up into the ship.
him, eying the case in his hands. “They got you playing your own porter as
well now?” he asked.
said Han, setting it down. “I don’t want anyone else even getting near the
Falcon before we take off.”
“Do you know
where we’re going yet?”
somewhat smugly. “I’m the only one who does. I told Mon Mathma about it,
and she agreed to keep the location to myself until we’re well outta here.
Not even Leia knows.”
“Good idea. Don’t take chances.” He moved closer to speak more
confidentially. “There’s something odd going on around here that gives me
a bad feeling. They found one of Blue Flight dead today.”
“Fell down a
maintenance shaft it looked like. Twenty stories at least. Broke his neck,
along with about everything else. Poor devil must’ve lain there a day or
two before someone found him. But there’s something strange about it.”
accident?” asked Han.
shrugged. “I don’t know about that. The thing is, he took his fighter on
routine patrol the day before yesterday, no question of it. Ground crew
checked him out, even talked to him.”
records say he never came back. And...” he added, “his ship is missing!”
Han frowned at
that. “You’re right about that bad feeling,” he said. “I don’t know what
it means, but I don’t like it.”
tell the Princess?”
enough problems to think about. I’m just glad we’re taking off soon. And,
I’ll tell you, I won’t set a course for that meeting spot until we’ve
zig-zagged around first. I want to be damn sure there’s nobody on our
said Wedge. “Well, I’ve got to get Gold Squadron prepped to escort you.
See you later.”
Han as the young pilot started away. “And keep me posted on whatever else
Wedge threw an
acknowledging wave back to him as he went out of the bay. Solo picked up
his case again and headed for the ramp.
At its base he
met Leia, just coming back down. She looked past him to the dwindling
figure of Wedge.
Captain Antilles?” she asked.
Yeah, guess it was,” he said absently.
did he want?” she demanded.
really,” Solo casually lied. “Just checking on progress. I told him we’d
be ready to go in time.”
“Not if Chewie
and Threepio don’t get back soon,” she said in an unsettled way. “Where
are they, Han?”
“I told you to relax,” he soothed. “They’ll get here. Prob’ly just had
trouble getting a part or something. It’ll be okay. Trust me.”
She gave him a skeptical eye. “I’ve heard that before.” Then, more
somberly, she added, “I’m just worried that something will go wrong. This
is so big, Han. So important.” She sighed regretfully, “I wish that Luke
“Yeah, me too,” he agreed. “But, he’s lot’s better off being well out of
The big hands
adeptly fitted a leather sheath about the leg and fastened its straps,
covering the limb from ankle to thigh.
this is necessary?” Luke Skywalker asked as he stood watching the big
warrior named Jattal Or armoring his leg.
pale one,” the other assured as he buckled the last strap to a wide belt
about Luke’s waist. “The beast’s bristly hide would sand the trousers and
then the skin from your leg in moments without it. Is it comfortable now?”
The young Jedi
moved the leg. “It’s all right. But, call me Luke. That’s my name.”
“If you wish,
Jattal Or set
about fastening a second sheath around the young Jedi’s other leg. While
he worked, Luke looked across the open area beside the central pit to
where the giant champion stood. A few other warriors of the clan stood
around him, watching him in like preparation. But all save the
interpreting one seemed to be keeping a safe distance from the strange
had shed his outer long robe. He stretched his massive body up, spreading
his arms. It was an impressive display of size
and reach, Luke evaluated.
Jattal Or straightened after finishing the second leg. He handed two other
leather pieces to Luke.
“Here,” he said. “The arms must be done too. See to that while I gather
He strode off. Luke began to pull one of the leather protectors up an arm
to shield him from his wrist to past his elbow. As he worked, another
warrior detached himself from the watching group to approach the young
Jedi. He was a lean and battered figure with a ragged tear in one cheek of
his mask, an eyepiece knocked askew, and some head spikes broken.
Apparently braver than the rest of his folk, he moved up close to Luke.
The Jedi paused and looked quizzically to the being.
“I’ve awaited this chance to speak to you alone,” the man said in a low,
husky tone, looking around in a cautious way to see if anyone was
“You speak too?” asked a startled Luke.
“Careful,” the man warned. “None here know I have the speech. They must
“Because I am not like the others. I have gone out from the clans and
lived with your kind. They would not trust me if they knew. But I have
learned acceptance. I do not wish to be your enemy. I most certainly do
not wish to see you die. But, this fight, it will surely kill you.”
“I’m not dead yet,” Luke told him.
“A matter of time only,” the other said grimly. “Have you ever ridden a
“Only once,” Luke admitted. “It was tame enough.”
“On Tatooine, a tame bantha is a bantha who has bonded with its Rider. If
you came across one here, its Rider must have perished and the beast was
wandering in search of him. For this contest, you will be offered an
unbonded bantha, which is quite different, and a most difficult beast.
Impossible for an unskilled rider. And for you to fight from its back as
well...” he shook his head. “No, you must use the power of the Force to
“The Force?” Luke looked at him with surprise. “But, how do you...”
The man held up a hand, looked around him, then leaned in to speak even
“I told you, I have not stayed so separate from your world as the rest
here. I know of the young Skywalker who went off to become a Jedi. That
also is why I so much wish to help you. I realize you might be of great
boon to us. You could help to lead us at last in a new way. But to survive
to do so, you must first use your wizard’s skills to win.”
“I can’t do that,” Luke said.
“You must,” the man argued. “Even if in some way you could control the
bantha, Dovra Ackru will be a fierce opponent. Why, for him to
becobanthame champion of such a warrior race should speak of what an
outstanding fighter he must be.”
Luke glanced across to the giant figure again. “I had thought of that,” he
said, then shrugged. “Even so, I can’t cheat. I’m a sworn Jedi Knight. I
have to stay true to my principles. I won’t use the Force to take unfair
“Not even to make more equal your chances in such an unfair contest?”
“Look, I can’t gauge how much it’s going to be that,” Luke told him, “no
matter what you say. And I sure won’t risk using any tricks that might
just make it easier for me to kill him. So it’s got to be a straight
fight, no extra help at all.”
“You are a fool then,” the warrior said in frustration. He considered,
then tried again, “Well, if you will not act to improve your own
chances, perhaps you will let me do something for you.”
Luke eyed him narrowly. “What do you mean?”
“I can at least see that you have an easier ride—if you’ll only listen and
do what I say.”
“I’ll listen,” Luke said guardedly, “but, no promises.”
“Very well. When they bring up the banthas, you will have to choose one.
That is your right. Look for one with a twisted horn. That one should be
your pick of mounts. It will be the most docile, the most easy to direct.
one thing. You
will be able to have some chance in the fight, anyway.”
it over, then nodded. “All right. I’ll go that far. But if this is some
kind of a trap…”
“I could trap
you no more tightly than you have already trapped yourself, young Jedi,”
the other pointed out. “I assure you, I very much wish to see you stay
alive.” His eye was caught by the figure of Jattal Or coming back
toward them. “Ah, and now I must go,” he said hurriedly. “Remember, none
must know I’ve talked with you of this.”
away back into the crowd, vanishing as Jattal Or reached Luke. The tall
warrior now carried a chest plate of thick leather, a pointed skull cap of
beaten gold metal, and a curved stick. The stick was typical of the
instruments all the warriors carried, knobbed on one end and fitted with
cutting blades and a long point at the other.
“We call this
a ‘gaderffii,’” the interpreter explained, dropping the other equipment.
“A gaffi stick to you. In the contest it will serve you in two ways.” He
pointed to the blade end. “With this end you may either slash or jab.” He
made some swings and thrusts with it in demonstration, then handed the
instrument to Luke.
The Jedi swung it about, first tentatively, then with swiftly growing
skill. The other watched him, clearly impressed.
“Not too bad,” Or judged. He shook his head. “A pity. You might have
learned to use it well had you any more time left to you.”
“And you don’t think I have,” said Luke.
“I have seen him fight others,” Or said. “I have fought him myself.” He
touched a shoulder. “The deep scar from that is with me still. I think
there are none who can beat that one.”
“You know, you people are really building my confidence,” Luke said. He
looked again at the stick. “But, you said this had two purposes. What’s
“The club end is to control the beast you ride. You have no other means.”
“So, how does it work?”
“Very simple. The Bantha is far from a stupid beast, but it is most
stubborn. To make it turn to the right, you strike the left side of the
head. To go left, strike the other. Use some power in it. They also have a
most thick skull.”
“How about going and stopping?”
“Slapping its rear with the stick will goad it forward. Rapping the top of
the skull makes it stop. Plan your moves
well ahead if
you can. The beast is slow to react. That is where the rider’s skill is
most important.” The warrior looked around at a low, bleating sound. “Oh,
here they come.”
around too. Up a ramp from their underground corral two score banthas were
plodding, driven by several warriors with the sticks. They were herded to
a wide spot beside the central pit.
examination of the animals did little to dispel the first impression of
their ugliness. They were tall, broad behemoths, their thick legs, long
tails and hulking bodies covered with wiry masses of hair. The blunt
muzzles of their massive heads sported short tusks and oozing nostrils
flanked by tiny eyes. On either side of the wide skulls, set high and well
forward, were the tight spirals of large, hard-boned horns, as if butting
were the chief weapon of the beasts.
bantha’s smell was in full keeping with its looks. Even out in the open,
their pungent, gamey odor was strong in the air.
As others of
the tribe gathered around, the O-Tal made his appearance, moving to a spot
before the herd. His champion at once joined him and, at Or’s direction,
Luke did too.
“You must now
choose your banthas,” the O-Tal formally announced to Luke through his
Dovra Ackru quickly looked them over and pointed out a broad chested, grey
Luke took longer, looking them over carefully. None with an odd horn was
visible at first. But then one bellowed and moved aside as another behind
shouldered by it into view. This one had a horn whose outward skew made it
different from any of the rest.
Luke pointed it out. “I’ll take that one.”
“That?” said the O-Tal. He stared hard at the rather small, rather
nondescript animal, then shrugged. “Very well.”
The chieftain turned to face the two contestants, speaking gravely now as
Jattal Or interpreted:
“You will fight within our ring. To try to break out of it means death.”
“I don’t intend to run,” Luke assured.
“We will see,” said the chieftain, “You will fight from bantha back until
one or another is unseated. The battle may then be continued on foot by
both... if the remaining one chooses.”
“If not?” asked Luke.
“The one still mounted may choose to simply run the other down,” the O-Tal
explained. “Either way, the contest is not concluded until one can fight
no longer. Do you understand?”
“It’s clear enough,” said Luke. “I’m ready.”
your banthas,” the O-Tal ordered.
Luke and Dovra
Ackru donned chest plates and helmets, then went to the animals. Luke
stepped to the towering side of his beast, looked up it, and took a grip
on the bristling hair. He gave a grimace of pain.
He gripped the
beast’s hair higher up and hauled himself the rest of the eight feet,
getting onto its back. Here he looked around to see that his opponent was
already astride his own mount, straddling its shoulders, one leg on either
side of the thick neck. He quickly assumed the same position. The flat
skull-top and curled masses of horn were just before him.
dozen of the warriors had mounted other banthas. With shouts and energetic
swats of their sticks they sent the beasts shambling forward.
warriors spread apart, riding out past the last of the dwelling-pits and
into a stretch of level, hard-packed ground beyond. Here they formed into
a rough circle some two hundred yards around.
“It is time, pale Luke,” said Jattal Or, handing the gaffi stick up to the
young Jedi. “May your fight be noble and your end an honorable one.”
“Thanks... I think,” said Luke. He reached down for the stick, firmly
resettled himself, and looked around to the O- Tal,
The stocky chieftain looked from his champion to Luke. He nodded at their
readiness. He lifted an arm again.
He stood that way a moment, poised between the two beasts, while
combatants and onlookers watched expectantly. Then the arm dropped.
Dovra Ackru swung his stick back and gave his bantha several taps on the
rump. The animal lumbered forward. Luke followed suit, and his beast fell
in beside the champion’s.
The two mounts walked out to the center of the ring. Here the huge warrior
struck the left side of his beast’s head, just behind the horn. It turned
away at a right angle. Luke watched his actions and tapped his own bantha
on the right side. A look of relief came into his face as it readily
complied, turning the opposite way.
As the two neared the cordon of warriors at either side of the ring, Dovra
Ackru turned his mount again. Again Luke followed, his steering tap obeyed
“Atta boy,” he murmured to the beast. “Just keep going along with me.”
As the two
beasts swung to face each other, champion and then Jedi tapped them atop
the skulls. The banthas stopped at once. For a moment the two riders
stared across at one another, Luke intense, Dovra apparently at ease.
champion’s mouth opened with an earsplitting trill. He gave his mount a
great smack across the rear. It bellowed and lunged forward.
Luke urged his
own beast forward, and it responded instantly. Soon both animals were
heading toward one another at a ponderous, earthshaking lope.
together on a collision course. While they neared, the giant warrior
stayed intent on Luke, weapon held ready, and showed no signs of wavering.
The novice Luke held on as long as he could, but when a crash seemed
almost inevitable, he tapped his bantha’s skull on the right side. It
veered away with an instant to spare.
collision, but his break gave Dovra Ackru the advantage. The sharp turn
threw Luke sideways. He grabbed at the coarse neck hair to keep his
balance, lowering his guard. As the champion swept by, he struck out at
the vulnerable young Jedi. The edge of one blade struck Luke’s shoulder,
slicing across it.
The keen edge
drew a line of blood there as it ripped through both the tunic and the
flesh of the biceps beneath.
It was only a
surface wound, but the pain and surprise made Luke grunt and jerk away.
reflexes were lightning ones. As soon as his bantha was past Luke’s, he
was whacking it around in a hard right turn. It wheeled tightly and
swiftly for such a bulky beast.
momentarily distracted by his wound, was slow to bring his own gaffi stick
into play. The advantage might have once more fallen to Dovra Ackru, but
Luke’s bantha seemed to anticipate his needed move. Without direction it
swung itself around in the same direction to face the giant warrior’s
beast squarely again.
Once more they
plunged in head-to-head. But this time the quickly learning Luke held onto
the course as stubbornly as his opponent. The beasts charged together,
seemingly ready to butt heads in a monumental crash, neither rider giving
animals’ own senses of self-preservation avoided a collision. Both veered
slightly away at the last second, sweeping by each other so closely that
their bristling coats rasped together,
Ackru took a passing stroke at Luke. Prepared, the Jedi parried, slamming
his weapon away with a power that sent the champion jerking back. When the
two bantha’s swept apart, the warrior swiveled his head around to stare
back at Luke in a gesture clearly indicating surprise. This slender, pale
one was showing himself to be a fair opponent.
Now made aware
that his first tactic would not work again, Dovra Ackru swiftly shifted to
another. Waiting to see which way Luke turned, he this time urged his
mount around in an opposite wheel. He slapped its rump hard and trilled
sharply into its ear to goad it on. The beast charged ahead with a burst
of greater speed.
As his mount
came around, Luke realized the champion’s new ploy—too late. He swung his
stick over to prod his bantha the other way, but not in time to keep his
opponent from moving in behind him. Instead he slapped the beast to
greater speed in an attempt to keep ahead. Soon it was loping along in a
wide curve, just within the ring of mounted warriors. But the big
warrior’s bantha was running a smaller arc within Luke’s, and it was
swung out at Luke as soon as he came in range. He leaned out across the
space between the plunging beasts to launch a salvo of savage blows.
himself hard pressed to keep his seat and fight to the rear while
half-twisted around. He parried the blows as best he could with one hand
while hanging on with the other.
One of the
champion’s cuts slipped past his guard and slashed down across his back,
laying open a flap of both cloth and skin. Another clipped the jutting
point from the top of Luke’s metal cap.
Ackru managed to swing his weapon under and up to lock a blade behind one
of Luke’s. With a two-handed twist and yank the powerful
warrior tore the weapon free of the young Jedi’s grasp.
It lifted high
and flew far off, turning lazily end-over-end to land point down, half
burying itself in the ground.
gave a loud bellow of triumph. His gaffi stick swept up to strike again,
its bright blades glinting in the sun.
suddenly lurched sharply sideways.
It slammed its
shoulder hard into the side of the other beast’s head in what seemed a
deliberate blocking move. Dovra Ackru’s bantha was jolted off stride by
the blow. The champion was jerked back, his blade dropping.
young Jedi took swift advantage of the opening. In a desperate countermove
he drew his legs up, crouched, and sprang across onto the other beast.
The huge warrior
once more lifted the gaffi stick to strike, but his reaction was too slow.
Luke dove in, seizing the stick as well, and the two grappled, yanking and
twisting savagely at the weapon as each sought to win control of it.
precariously atop the still loping beast. Luke scrambled for a hold on its
back with only his legs as he battled with both hands. The champion fought
back from a secure position, his leg’s locked tight about its neck.
His strength was
more than a match for Luke’s, and his position gave him the advantage. He
used it cunningly.
After a brief
tussle, he twisted abruptly away from Luke, heaved hard, and hauled the
Jedi bodily over his head. With nothing to hold to, the young man
found himself flying over
the warrior’s shoulders as he rolled them forward and plunging down the
front of the bantha’s face.
His grip on the stick broke. He
toppled over the muzzle, grasping out at anything to stop himself. He
ceased falling, but only to find himself suspended from the beast’s wide
nose, hanging on to its formidable lower tusks.
This unlikely position he held
only a moment. The bantha snorted loudly and opened its mouth to give a
deep, resounding bleat of anger.
Luke stared down the wet cavern
of its huge throat as its rank breath blasted into his face. Then his
hands slipped from the tusks and he fell, dropping between the hairy
pillars of the pumping front legs and vanishing from sight beneath the
The bantha continued in its
lumbering run, Dovra Ackru turned to look back, clearly expecting to see
Luke’s trampled form churned through and kicked out behind.
But the Jedi was not yet
finished. He hung now from the belly of the beast by a stubborn grip on
its shaggy fur, his legs and rear end dragging on the ground. He glanced
back along the bantha’s underside to where the giant hind legs stomped
ahead like a pair of pile drivers on either side of the dragging mass of
tail. Only death by crushing awaited him there.
The only way was back up. So,
gritting his teeth against the pain of grasping the harsh fur, Luke began
to haul himself up and around the curve of the great chest, crawling out
behind the right front leg and climbing the beast’s side.
Dovra Ackru still sat staring
rearward, his strained posture indicative of mounting puzzlement. He
turned back toward the front and leaned far forward, peering down past his
mount’s head, seeking some sign of his vanished opponent.
He thus didn’t see the left hand
of Luke shoot up to grab hold in the hair of the beast’s back close behind
him. It was only when the young man’s head lifted into view that the
movement caught the corner of the champion’s eye. His own head whipped
around, and he stared in surprise, but only for an instant. Then his right
arm was sweeping the weapon around and down in a hard chop at Luke.
But his swing was wide to avoid
hitting the beast too. Luke flattened against its side as the blade
whistled past his skull. Then in a final, full effort of will and
strength, he shot his right arm up toward the warrior. His hand went for
Dovra Ackru’s middle, grabbing hold of the leggings’ waist strap. He
yanked toward him as he fell backward from the animal, his weight drawing
the other with him. Already overbalanced by his wasted swing, the champion
had no chance to recover. The two plummeted from the bantha together.
Luke struck the ground on his
shoulders and back, somersaulting on over to land on his hands and knees.
He was on his feet instantly,
crouched to meet his opponent’s next attack,
But Dovra Ackru had sailed beyond
him, crashing down on his face with his full, massive weight. He lay
crumpled and motionless a few feet from Luke.
The Jedi stepped to the fallen
warrior, moving warily, ready for a trick. With a foot he prodded the
being’s side, getting no result. Luke knelt and rolled him over. Dovra
Ackru fell back limply. He was breathing but seemed to be stunned. The
bantha stick dropped from his opened hand.
Luke picked the weapon up and
rose to his feet. As he did, the champion gave a sharp groan and pushed
himself up on his elbows. But he stopped moving abruptly as his gaze fell
upon the glinting metal point held close over her chest.
He stayed motionless, clearly
waiting for the end.
But Luke stood motionless as
well, only looking down at the warrior.
“You do not kill him?” called a
He looked around to see the O-Tal
and Jattal Or striding up to him, a crowd of the Sand People close behind.
The mounted warriors who had
formed the ring were riding in too, pulling up in a tighter circle around
“You really expect me to kill
your champion?” Luke asked the chieftain through Jattal Or.
The O-Tal shrugged. “It is a part
of the contest,” he responded through his translator. “‘To the death’ I
said. He understands that.”
“Well, I don’t,” Luke replied
sharply. “It’s over. I’m not killing someone just to prove something to
The chieftain eyed him
thoughtfully. “So, you will not kill, even if it means you would save your
Luke looked from him around at
the circle of armed warriors staring grim-faced down from their mounts,
then back to the O-Tal. “No, not even for that,” he said firmly. “If I
truly am a Jedi Knight, I won’t dishonor the name.” He cast the weapon
down at the O-Tal’s feet.
Dovra Ackru sat up, obviously
both surprised and bewildered by his clemency. His chieftain bent and took
up the gaffi stick. He looked from its keen blades to the young man and
spoke in solemn tones.
“He says you are indeed not like
the others of your kind,” Jattal Or pronounced with great conviction.
“None has ever acted toward us with such good intention or honesty. Nor
have we ever seen one of your race or even of our own fight with such
amazing skill. He believes, as I do, that it truly is some powerful fate
which guides your actions here, and we must give it no more argument.” He
bowed to Luke, “He accepts the life of his warrior from you Luke
Skywalker, and gives you your own in return.”
The worn and battered young man
took a deep breath and smiled in relief, “Thank you,” he said most
Leia and Gowan sat at the small
table in the main cabin of the Millennium Falcon. Their heads were close
together as they went over the information scrolling by on the datapad
screen opened before them, discussing in muted tones the finer points of
Imperial protocols on display.
Across the cabin, Han Solo
checked the instrument readings on a bank of systems screens and cast
sidelong, disgruntled glances toward the pair. He spoke in muted tones
also, but only to himself,
A loud “gronk” from the open
boarding ramp brought the attention of all three around to it. Chewbacca
was just coming up it, ducking under the low hatch to step into the cabin.
Behind him, C-3P0 was clanking up and into the ship.
“Well, look who finally got
here,” said Han Solo, his sarcasm not quite hiding his relief. “I was
actually starting to wonder about you guys. Not that I’d worry or
“Do you know what time it is?” a
scowling Leia asked the pair. “We’re supposed to be leaving within the
Chewbacca gave an
abashed-sounding whimper at that rebuke, but the droid’s response was
“We are well aware of the time,
Princess Leia. You will most assuredly not be delayed in your departure.”
“I suppose not,” she had to
admit, the sternness fading from her tone. “Still, we were concerned.”
“Look, let’s cut the chatter,”
Han put in getting to his feet. “We’ve got too much to do. Threepio, run a
last diagnostic on the Falcon’s navicomp systems. Got to be ready to feed
our destination coordinates once we’re away.”
“And I have work for you as
well,” Leia told the droid. “You’re going to be going along with us as our
“I see,” Threepio replied flatly,
clearly unaffected by the news.
“I thought that you’d be
pleased,” she said.
“Yeah, Golderod,” put in Han.
“You were complaining about bein’ left out. Here’s a chance for some
excitement. You oughta thank Her Highness.”
“I see no reason to do so,”
Threepio replied reasoningly. “I had assumed I would be chosen to go. What
other protocol droid has my experience?”
“Now hold on,”
Han began, sounding a bit miffed at the droid’s somewhat lacking
“No,” said Lela
defensively. “He’s right. He’s worked hard for this. He does deserve it.”
subsided, “Yeah. I guess.”
Threepio said briskly, starting away toward a service corridor, “If that’s
all decided, I’ll go see to Captain Solo’s diagnostic. It is, as usual, my
job to insure that things run smoothly.”
honored you can help,” said Han dryly. “Chewie and I need to run a last
check.” He looked to the Wookiee. “You did get that spare rotor, didn’t
Chewie lifted a
small box and barked an affirmative.
“Good,” said Han.
Then, reminded of something else, he turned to call after the droid. “Hey,
wait, Threepio. What about my ale?”
The golden being
paused at the corridor opening and looked back to him.
“I was unable to
find any,” Threepio replied. “And, speaking frankly, Master Solo, your
physique might well benefit by your being without it.”
With that parting
comment, he went off into the corridor.
Han stared after the droid for a
nonplussed moment, then said indignantly, “My physique?”
He looked down at himself and
pinched the flesh of his belly in assessment. He looked around to Leia.
“Was that hunk of metal making a
crack about my weight?” he asked her.
Leia looked Han over with an
amused but critical eye.
“I’d say he was right again,” was
her own judgement.
A big hand smoothed the thick,
white ointment onto an inflamed welt across Luke Skywalker’s shoulder with
The shirtless young Jedi sat
patiently on a stool in the throne room of the O-Tal while Jattal Or
tended to his wounds. He had many of these. The fight with the dune
maggots and his contest with Dovra Ackru had left little of his torso
unmarked by vivid welts, bruises, and cuts.
The O-Tal—at the moment the
room’s only other occupant—looked on from his rattan throne as his
translator carefully smeared more ointment from an earthenware pot over
the last welts. He was clearly admiring of the young man’s stoicism.
“He says that it is much you have
endured in this one day,” Jattal Or passed on to Luke. “The desert, the
torture, the fight. Are you certain you want no time for rest?”
“No, I’m fine, really,” Luke
said. “Just a little sore.”
“The salve will help with that,”
the man assured. “Many generations have found their healing in it. It is
squeezed from the tendrils of a rare desert plant. Most miraculous.”
The warrior finished his effort,
setting the jar down beside him. “Work some also into your hands, young
champion,” he told Luke. “It will sooth them as well.”
“Thanks,” Luke told him. He
looked at his palms. They were bright red, their outer layer of skin all
but flayed away by the sanding action of the bantha’s hair.
He scooped a blob of cream out of
the jar and rubbed his sensitized palms gingerly together, massaging it
in. The soothing effects showed clearly in his face.
“Miraculous for sure,” he said.
“Even Yoda’s use of the Force couldn’t heal like this.”
“I have no knowledge of this one
you speak of,” said Jattal Or, “but for one of your powers to speak so is
a compliment to us.”
Luke finished working the cream
in. He took up the tunic that lay across his lap and slipped it back on,
rising from the stool.
“Well, I thank you,” he told the
chieftain and warrior graciously, “but now I should be going.”
translated for his chief, and the O-Tal replied.
“He says ‘Very
well,’” the other passed back with the included tone of regret. “But if
you mean to depart from us so soon, he has some things for you.” He lifted
his voice to call out: “Dovra Ackru!”
Out through the
curtained opening stepped the huge warrior. He carried the Jedi’s utility
belt with its equipment pouches and weapons all on it.
“We are most
happy to return your weapons to you,” Jattal said. “Especially this one.”
He respectfully touched the lightsaber’s hilt, then pointed to Dovra
Ackru’s head. The big warrior turned it to show a large bandage across one
“The O-Tal says
it was his own fault,” Jattal Or translated for the chief. “He was
examining it and accidentally turned it on.”
took the belt and handed it to Luke.
“It took only a
part of his ear,” he added for himself. “A good lesson about the danger of
platform is on the surface, ready for you,” the O-Tal passed to Luke as
the Jedi buckled the belt on. “But there is something else.”
rose and walked to the long table of scavenged objects. He picked up the
milk-white globe and turned to Luke, speaking most gravely.
“You came to find this,”
explained Jattal Or. “We sensed it had special value to our friend the old
wizard, who was also friend to you. You risked your life for it, so we now
make you a gift of it, as you too have become our friend.”
The chieftain held it out. Luke
stepped forward and carefully took it from him. The young Jedi held the
smooth bowl in his hands, looking in wonder at it. It was all but glowing
in the subdued light of the room.
“I thank you especially for
this,” he told the chieftain through Jattal Or.
“He says that clearly there is a
great meaning in this thing for you,” the translator returned to him.
“Might he know what it is?”
“I don’t really know myself,”
Luke told him truthfully. “It might be the secret to my whole life.”
“Then we will pray that it reveal
itself to you.” The O-Tal answered.
He gestured to his champion.
Dovra Ackru stepped up and handed Luke a large cloth carrying bag. The
Jedi slipped the bowl inside and slung the bag across a shoulder.
we are ready to go,” Jattal Or announced. “The others wait above to say
They escorted Luke up out of the
central meeting pit. On the surface beside it all the other warriors of
the clan had gathered about his hovering sand skimmer.
As Luke and his escort approached
it, one warrior stepped from the group and handed Jattal Or Luke’s long
“I say good-bye to you for all my
people,” the translator told Luke as he passed him the garment. “For
myself I wish to say that I am not sorry you survived. I feel it was for
“I’m glad you think so,” Luke
replied. “But he might have won. It was as much luck as anything that kept
me alive. That… and that bantha.”
“The beast was indeed a most
clever one,” Jattal Or agreed. “Too bad it has vanished.”
“Vanished?” Luke echoed. “How?”
“When the riders came in from
their ring, it had already run away,” the warrior supplied. “No matter.
Stray beasts usually wander back soon enough.”
“I hope that one does,” said
Luke, “I owe it.”
He slipped into the robe and
stepped up to his skimmer. As he began to mount, the O-Tal’s hand fell on
his arm, stopping him. He turned to look at the chief.
“He would wish that you might
stay,” Jattal Or translated with feeling. “He believes now that there
might be value in more talk between our people and those as
honorable as you. There could be very much
that we might learn of each other’s lives.”
“I hope that
someday I can come back,” Luke sincerely returned. “I truly do. But, for
now I have a long way to go.”
listened to his warrior’s translation of this. He nodded and replied.
“He says, ‘I
understand.’” Jattal Or explained. “You have a warrior’s quest. It cannot
stepped back and let him climb onto the platform, but said something more
as he did so.
“The O-Tal says
not to be in too great a hurry, young warrior,” said Jattal Or. “Already
your boldness has put you in much peril. You act as if some relentless
enemy pursued you.”
Luke gave a
little smile. “Only myself.”
dangerous foe,” the warrior said gravely. He lifted a hand in farewell.
“May the Breath be always at your back.”
Luke waved in
answer, twisted the skimmer’s hand controls, and sent the little machine
The others waved
too as they watched him go. Several warriors ran up the big, nearby dune
to see him sweep away and shrink down to a distant speck.
When he vanished from sight, they
began to walk down from the mound. One warrior stumbled and looked around
indignantly to see what had tripped him up.
His eyes widened and he gave a
cry of alarm. Other warriors rushed to him and stood staring wide-eyed
A hand, its fingers splayed and
stiff, protruded from the ground.
One warrior knelt and began to
brush the sand away,
An arm and then the top of a
buried form came into view. As the warrior scooped more sand from about
it, what was piled on top suddenly avalanched down, revealing the masked
face of a Tuskan clansman.
It had a jagged tear in one
cheek, a goggled eyepiece was askew, and two of its headspikes were gone.
The Millennium Falcon blasted
away from the mountain base and up into the stratosphere. On either side
of it flew a trio of the sleek X-wing fighters from Wedge’s escorting Gold
Once they had torn free of the
planet’s glowing cloak of atmosphere and plunged for some distance into
reassuringly empty space, Han Solo went to work in the Falcon’s cockpit.
He sat bent forward in the pilot’s seat while he painstakingly punched out
a number series on the buttons of the control console. The console beeped
and bopped under his playing fingers like some shrilly pitched musical
With a final and quite melodic
little chord tapped out, Solo stopped, eyed the readout, and gave a nod of
satisfaction. He got up, looking around to Chewie in the copilot’s seat.
“Just keep an eye on things here,
partner,” he told the Wookiee. “She’ll be flyin’ herself for a while now.
I’m going to fill in our royal passengers.”
He went out the hatchway and
along the short corridor to the central cabin. There Gowan sat alone,
playing a chess-like game against himself at the holographic games table.
The 3-D images of various monstrous beings that
formed the playing pieces moved warily about
one another on the round game grid feinting for positions. There were no
direct assaults. Gowan’s method of play seemed to call for devious
strategy, not violence.
where’s Leia?” Han asked, looking around for her.
The man looked up
to him. “Ah. She just went to change.”
repeated quizzically. “To wha...”
He cut off
abruptly as his eye was caught by a figure which appeared from
It was Leia, but
a much transformed one. The tight braids were gone, replaced by a loose,
soft fall of glowing chestnut hair. Her usual tunic and trousers had been
exchanged for a long gown of lush deep green, fitted to reveal her figure.
Han stared at her
with some surprise. This was by far the most feminine and alluring outfit
he had yet seen her in, not including the revealing slave outfit once
forced on her by Jabba the Hutt.
instantly. He arose and went to her, beaming in pleasure, speaking
“My dear! You
look positively lovely.” He put out his hands toward her. She took them,
looking pleased by the compliment.
“Do you really think so?” she
asked. “It’s seldom I get the chance to dress like this.”
“Of course, of course!” He led
her into the room like a courtier at a ball, “So much more becoming to a
woman of your beauty and status than that shapeless, shabby, military
Han was still just taking her in.
She stopped as she noted him. Her smile faded. She dropped Gowan’s hands
and turned toward him, her hands going to her hips.
“What’s wrong with you?” she
“Huh?” said an off-guard Han.
“Oh...ah... nothing! No. It’s... it’s great!”
Gowan spoke up proddingly. “I
believe that the general came to inform us of something. Am I right,
“Oh, right,” said Han, brought
back to his purpose there “I came to tell you I’ve locked in the
destination coordinates. We’re all set. Once we get out past the Foss
Point beacon we’ll make the jump to lightspeed.”
“And how long to the rendezvous
from there?” Leia asked.
“About thirty-six hours,” he told
“We’d best get back to our
studies then,” said Gowan to her. “We’ve got to have determined our
preliminary responses to any counter demands the Imperial team might
possibly make. Senator Valladian is a most wily negotiator.
“He’ll surely give us no
concessions he doesn’t have to,” Leia agreed. “We can’t afford not to be
“Good. That is...” he met her
gaze with a probing one, “...unless, you’d rather work in my quarters. It
would be more...” he glanced around at Han, “...private there.”
She also glanced to Solo, noting
his eyes narrowing at this suggestion.
“Here will be fine,” she told
He shrugged and smiled. “I
tried,” he said and went out of the room.
Alone now, Leia looked to Han,
and he looked to her. They stood apart for a few moments, he in open
appraisal, she in clear discomfort under the scrutiny.
“Will you please tell me what’s
wrong?” she finally asked earnestly.
“Well, I don’t exactly know,” he
said in a musing tone, walking around her to get a view from all angles.
“I mean, I’ve seen you in a real gown before. I’ve just never seen you in
anything quite this fine.”
“It’s not so fine as that,” she
protested. “It’s what I have to wear as a person of state. I’m an
ambassador now. I represent you and our whole cause.”
He moved in closer and fingered
the rich cloth of her sleeve. He looked up into her face, noting the soft
blush in the cheeks, the subtly reddened lips, the accentuating highlights
around the eyes.
“Are you wearing makeup?” he
“Of course I am,” she said
sharply. “Why not? I am also a woman. I know you men have forgotten.”
She turned away to stand by the
table where the pieces from Gowan’s game sat frozen in their last
positions. In an irritated gesture she poked at a bulbous, hippo-like
piece. The creature stomped forward to crush a hapless, weasel-like pawn.
The poor piece lay flattened.
Han stepped up to the table
across from her.
“Of course we remember you’re a
woman, Leia. Especially me. I’m just not sure you’re the same one I
He pushed a three horned,
rhinoish beast forward. It skewered into her creature’s bulging side with
its long front horn. The punctured hippo-like piece deflated like a
“Why are you acting this way?”
she said with frustration. This time her finger’s push sent a dragonlike
beast in to scorch the rhinoish one to cinders with a plume of blazing
breath. “You’ve been angry with me since we started this mission.”
“Oh, well, sorry!” He sent a
massive gorilla-like piece to seize and strangle the dragon, tying its
long neck into a bow knot. “Didn’t mean to get
you all roused up, Princess.”
“And that name,”
she said. “Before all this you hadn’t called me that in a long time.”
what you are, isn’t it?” he said bluntly. “I mean, that’s what all this
comes down to, doesn’t it? A princess... and a guy like me...”
“I’m not a
princess,” she told him with some heat. My parents, my planet, all my own
people are gone. Now I’m just Leia.”
He shook his
head. “No. You’re still a part of that old ruling class. You always will
be. And you should be too,” he admitted grudgingly. “It’s important now.
They need you. But me? Well, I’m like Luke said he was—just a simple,
backwards guy, a soldier-of-fortune who got his money any way he could and
his learning by hard knocks. How could I even think there’d be anything
between us? You’re better off with a guy like Gowan.”
said, clearly jolted by the suggestion. “But...”
Princess,” he scoffed. “Don’t say you haven’t thought of it. You two fit
in together like two spitz spores in a pod. I’ve seen him look at you.
I’ve seen you look back, too.”
“How can you say
that?” she cried, now in outrage. “You know that the only feelings I have
are for you!” A finger jabbed in a long serpent piece to encoil the
gorilla and squeeze it to oblivion.
“Look here, you
and me have been through a lot together,” he returned. “We’ve helped each
other out, leaned on each other when things were desperate. We had to.
But you don’t have to confuse that with love.”
He prodded a
last, scorpion-like piece forward to drive its sting through the flat head
of the serpent. As the snake thrashed in its death throes, he started to
turn from the table.
“Wait,” she said,
an urgency replacing the ire in her tone. “Things have moved fast.
There’ve been such changes. My feelings about… about things
may be confused, but...”
A throat clearing
sound brought them looking around to see Gowan returning.
“I was going to
save the game for later,” he said, eyeing the devastation on the game
board, “but I see someone’s finished it.” He looked to them, adding
pointedly, “I certainly hope someone won.”
He sat down at
the table between them.
“Very well then.
All ready, Leia,” he said briskly, looking up to her. He glanced to Han.
“Thank you, General,” he added, a cavalierly dismissing note in his voice,
“but, if you don’t mind, we really have to work. You can go about your
Han looked from
Gowan to her. “Is that right, Leia?” he asked. “Do you and he have to work
choice,” she said reasoningly. “We have to have everything ready. It’s
important... to all of us. You said so yourself.”
He looked from
her to a smugly grinning Gowan. “Yeah,” he said in a conceding way. “I
guess I did.”
He turned, and
stalked off toward the cockpit.
called after him, feeling as if something important was getting away from
He hesitated an
instant at the hatchway, but then went on, out of sight.
“Never mind about
him,” said Gowan dismissingly. He took hold of her hand. “He has his task
and we have ours.” He tugged her down beside him at the table. “Now,
Forward, in the
cockpit, Han Solo was grousing aloud to the Wookiee.
greasy Gowan, Chewie! If I’ve got to live with him ‘til...”
He stopped short,
staring ahead. It was the golden figure of C-3PO who sat in his pilot’s
seat, eyes fixed on the ship’s instruments.
“Chewie? What is
he doing here?” Han asked the Wookiee.
first-mate only shrugged and snorted his ignorance.
“I am merely
examining the ship’s workings to see that all is correct,” the droid
“Really? Well, I
thought that was my job here. I don’t want you changing things.”
“As polite as
usual,” Threepio said in a voice colored by just the faintest sarcastic
tinge. He took his time in rising from the seat and turned to face Solo.
diplomat folk below need you?” Han said. “Why don’t you go down and
interrupt their little head-to-head?”
“I’m certain that
when they have need of my skills, they will request them,” the protocol
“Well, look then,
if you’re bored, I can find something for you to do.”
“Some menial and
grubby little task too, no doubt,” Threepio said. “Well, I’m afraid there
will be no more of that.”
said Han. “And why not?”
has changed,” the droid told him in a brusque, lecturing tone. “I am no
longer going to play your slave or servant. My service is now to Princess
Leia and this mission only. I am much too intelligent and valuable to be
utilized otherwise. I will thank you to consider that factor from this
With this he
pushed past Han and marched out of the cockpit.
“Well, I’m blowed!”
said Han, looking after him. “You think you know your comrades...”
nodded and made a low, rumbling sound of commiseration.
Han moved to his
seat and plopped himself down into it with a certain weariness.
“I don’t know,
Chewie,” he said in a perplexed way. “Luke, Leia, and now him.” He shook
his head. “Things are changing so fast, I don’t know who anybody is
The Wookiee made
a growl of protest at this, and Han quickly gave him a smile.
“Sorry. I meant
‘except for you’, old pal,” he assured.
Far off the
Falcon’s starboard bow a small planet marked by high, rough pinnacles of
rock slipped into view from the background of stars.
“Tory Point,” Han
announced, sitting forward and taking hold of the controls. “Get ready for
a course change and a jump to lightspeed. We’ll be doing a bit of fancy
flyin’ for a while now.” He grinned. “This should be fun!”
As the Wookiee
moved smartly to adjust controls, Han slammed the levers forward. The
Millennium Falcon came about and snapped ahead to full speed, flashing
away across the sea of space to slash a streaked trail of silver-white.
In only moments
the ship had shrunk to a dot of light, leaving only the empty vista of
blackness and stars.
The night sky
above the cliffs was ablaze with the thick scattering of scintillating
The only other
light came from the small gold cone sent up by a small but cheerfully
glowing fire. Its light faintly revealed the huddled mass of Obi Wan
Kenobi’s house not far away.
Close to the fire
sat Luke and R2-D2. The droid was using its articulated arm to push more
sticks into the blaze and provide a more suitable light for its intent
Luke sat across
the fire from his mechanical companion staring searchingly at the
milk-crystal bowl which he held in his hands. He held the thing up,
turning it this way and that, studying the manner in which the golden glow
played in rainbows of iridescent color against its smooth, curved
frustration was revealed in the young man’s frowning expression. He sighed
aloud, drawing the droid’s gleaming eye to him.
It squealed out
in an inquiring way.
“No. Nothing yet,
Artoo,” Luke answered it. He turned the hollow globe over to examine the
bottom. “There isn’t any kind of blemish, cut, or crack on it. The glass
squeaked and tootled again.
translated. He turned the sphere around, feeling it over carefully with
his hands. “No,” he said in exasperation. “No way to open it, either.” He
held the enigmatic object up to the light again. “I just don’t understand,
Artoo. Ben said that the key to Angorathea could be found in this thing.
But he didn’t give me any idea what it was, or even a clue how to find it.
So how did he think…”
abruptly, a light of realization sweeping the shadows of bafflement from
“Wait a minute,
Artoo,” he said with excitement. “This is part of it too. The test of a
He knew that this
had to be it. If the power of the Force truly was with him, he ought to
be able to get the secret out of this thing when no one else could. Obi
Wan certainly wouldn’t have left a key so important around for just anyone
He gazed at the
sphere hard again for some moments in new consideration. His feelings told
him there was only one means to his finding the truth: he was going to
have to concentrate his powers on the sphere.
He looked around
for an appropriate spot, then moved back a bit and set the sphere down on
a level place between himself and the fire. He sat cross-legged before it,
hands upon knees, and fixed his gaze on it intently. His face drew into
taut lines as he focused himself.
He had to
remember what Yoda had taught him about control. He had to draw upon the
energy—reach out—feel his connection to this thing. The power of the Force
was with him. He could not doubt that. The power was in him… in him…
As this litany
ran on through his thoughts, he put his whole mind and will to the task.
His body tensed, seemed to vibrate slightly with his focusing power. The
droid watched with a seeming concentration of its own, giving a small,
The sphere at
first was lit only by the reflection of the firelight. But soon a
luminescence began to rise within it, overcoming the gold glow until it
shone out in the dark like a silver moon. Clearly Luke was having an
effect on it.
He lifted his
hands from his knees, stretching them out to it in a gesture that seemed
both of welcome and summons. In a firm, clear voice he spoke out his
“Show me the
Heart of the Jedi!”
sphere swelled upward and outward, blooming into a huge ball filling the
space between Luke and the fire, looming high over him. The startled droid
squealed in alarm and jerked away, lifting its eye to stare upward.
himself, Luke calmly stared into the light. He watched as it altered from
a solid glow to a swirling translucence. He watched as, within the
billows, blue-silver clouds coalesced and then thinned, showing a globe’s
solid surface below. Here, vast glinting areas of a deep blue appeared,
separated by several smaller areas of mottled browns and greens. Some
inner knowledge told him what this brilliant object he gazed on truly was.
Then a new
structure appeared atop the pattern of seas and continents. It was a grid
work of uncountable fine threads, running here and there to various
points, connecting, linking, crossing, intertwining in a complex woven
fabric that seemed to bind all into a whole tapestry. And many threads
shot away from it into the surrounding space, as if stretching out to
touch other worlds.
“It’s the lines
of energy!” said Luke. “I can see them!”
In one ocean
section near an isle on the fringe of a ragged continent, a particularly
large number of the energy lines fanned out from a single point. It was an
odd concentration to see in a sector so empty otherwise. And the point of
light was singular too. It was the clear, brilliant red of a blazing ruby,
and the glow pulsed brighter with the slow, steady rhythm of a beating
Luke as he stared at the spot.
called, “do you see the bright red point?”
whistled an affirmative.
“Good. From my
memory of the charts of that part of space, those larger planets nearest
to it must be Erinn and Albaan. You’ve flown out farther than I’ve
explored. Can you identify that spot? Can you tell me exactly where it
There was a pause
as the droid considered, its electronic mind swiftly shuffling through
thousands of images of space seen from multiple angles.
Soon it squeaked
and tootled excitedly.
“You have seen a
planet out there?” Luke translated with a like excitement. “A very small
“Could you guide
me there?” Luke asked.
The droid gave an
With that, Luke
relaxed his concentration. His tension eased. As it did, the light faded,
and the glowing globe shrank down to become only a milk-crystal sphere
He picked it up,
eying it in satisfaction.
“Well, we’ve got
it now,” he said with an air of triumph. “The Ice Sea. That’s where we
have to go.”
The droid made a
low gurgling noise that most distinctly conveyed a deep concern.
“Yes, I know,
Artoo,” Luke answered, realizing he hadn’t been considering his companion.
“It’s a long way, and likely dangerous.”
their little spacecraft perched nearby and shook his head.
“The problem is
that X-wing of ours isn’t ideal for long trips. And there’s no backup
hyperdrive if things go wrong. We need something better.”
He looked out
into the darkness, considering the options. But he already knew the only
answer. If they had to find a stouter ship, there was just one decent
place in that part of the quadrant to look, no matter how dangerous.
It was that
spaceport of outcast galactic wrongdoers and rascals known as Mos Eisley!
of the Jedi
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
Kenneth C. Flint
Find his other books at:
See his author Facebook page at:
sterile and pockmarked face of a small, grey moon, a single Imperial Star
Destroyer glided in its synchronous orbit.
From a tiny
supply base on the surface directly below, a squadron of twelve TIE
fighters screamed upward, headed for the battleship. There a score of
fighters already hovered close to the big vessel—like gnats about a dozing
greelor—awaiting their turn to enter the underside landing bay.
Tharkus stood at the bow window of the ship’s main bridge, hands clasped
behind him, watching the swarming TIE fighters. Next to him stood the
Imperial general named Kantos. Behind them the bridge area was filled
with activity as dozens of crewmen and officers readied the Star Destroyer
One of those
officers—a spare, stiff, and birdlike man of pinched features—checked the
sensor data on a display screen, nodded, and strutted over to the two.
Tharkus,” the man addressed in a cold, crisp way, “the last of the
fighters have left the surface. We will have all squadrons aboard within
to him. “Very good, Captain Vaskor,” he said with approval. “How many
will that be, then?”
compliment, Sir. Four full squadrons, just as you ordered.”
And has all the other additional equipment I requested been brought aboard
“Yes, Sir. We
should be fully prepared to meet any environmental contingency. But, it
is a bit crowded aboard, sir, with all the extra machines and men.”
resourceful, Captain,” Tharkus told him. “I’m quite certain you will make
do. Now, there’s no question that we can reach our destination with the
This Victory II-class vessel has been retrofitted with the best hyperspace
capabilities in the fleet. We can jump as soon as we have the coordinates
from this special agent of yours.”
the high-admiral said with satisfaction. “Then just be ready to initiate
a departure immediately upon our receiving the coded transmission. I
expect it at any time.”
The man bowed
and began to turn away. But then he hesitated. “Ah... High Admiral,” he
said, “forgive my boldness, but I am the captain of this ship, and
this is highly irregular. Might I ask just what all of it is for?”
“I am afraid
you will have to perform your duties in ignorance of that,” Tharkus
replied. “This endeavor is most secret. The more who know, the greater
the danger. Do you understand, Captain?”
The man drew
himself up rigidly. “Of course, Sir. I’ll ask nothing further.” He
snapped a salute, turned, and marched away.
disciplined officer,” remarked Kantos, looking after him.
unimaginative,” said Tharkus, “but highly trained and completely loyal—the
characteristics I have most need of now.”
“He has a
point about the overcrowding,” said the General. “My stormtroopers are
squeezed into very tight quarters here. Why aren’t you making use of your
larger command ship, or your whole flotilla for that matter?”
“For the same
reason we’re hiding on this obscure moon, loading our forces by stealth,”
Tharkus explained. “I said no lie when I told our captain that this was
dangerous. Too many elements are arrayed against us. Were we to be
caught, we would surely be condemned. None others but ourselves must know
the whole truth of what we mean to do.”
“And all these
men we lead into jeopardy?”
“They are like
the captain—handpicked by me and obedient. They would die for me without
“Let us hope
that they won’t need to,” Kantos said fervently. He considered, then
added musingly. “But, you realize, Tharkus, that this secrecy gives you
another advantage as well.”
frowned in puzzlement. “What do you mean?”
If we do find a source of the Force’s power and can control it, why then
you alone might...”
galaxy?” Tharkus finished in a voice filled with shock at the very idea.
“Kantos, you misjudge my personal ambitions in this.” His voice took on a
noble tone. “I seek only to restore the strength of our Empire and see
the vile rebel conspiracy destroyed.”
Force...” began Kantos.
him off. “I despise the Jedi and everything they represent,” he spat out
venomously. “It is a religion of dreamers, of misfits who scorn social
order. Belief in its idyllic virtues brings on weakness and sloth. It’s
a drug that destroys the need to act, to use hands, will, and brute
strength,” he clasped one hand into a tight fist and shook it, “to seize
life tight and bend it to our needs. Better that it be wiped out
altogether than that we risk infection from the sickness by touching it
listened to the tirade, but remained unconvinced.
persisted in a scheming way, “if a man of your own strength and will could
master this power, it might be different. You said yourself that the
Emperor abused it, using it to his own ends. But if it were used for the
good of the whole Empire, under the military’s control, why...”
of his thoughts was interrupted by the approach of Lieutenant Voss, the
droid’s transmission of the coordinates has been received, Sir,” he
reported to Tharkus. “We are ready to proceed.”
Lieutenant. Pass the necessary information to the captain. Tell him we
will cast off immediately after the last fighter is aboard. Oh, and,
Voss, have you had any new word on young Skywalker?”
“I had a
report not long ago. But there’s no change, Sir. He is still making his
way to the Mos Eisely Spaceport.”
Young Jedi and
droid came into the outskirts of the sprawling port town on striding foot
and rolling wheels.
reached the first buildings, Luke made certain that his hood was up about
his face and that the long cloak was adjusted around him to hide his
weapons. Beside him R2-D2 rolled bumpily along over the neglected,
potholed road, chirping in low, sharp undertone as if it were grumbling to
complaining, Artoo,” Luke said amiably. “I know it was a long walk, but
we couldn’t bring the X-wing here. I told you there were still some
Imperial garrison troopers around. Look over there.”
A small patrol
of the white-armored soldiers was lounging out before a small tavern’s
door, conversing in bored tones. Their weapons were leaned against the
cracked stucco of the building’s outer wall, and some of the troopers even
had their helmets off.
As the man and
droid went by, none moved to question or intercept them. A couple of the
men glanced around toward them, but without any sign of more than mild
don’t seem on alert,” Luke softly commented once they were safely by.
R2-D2 beeped a
“Yes, I know
there’s supposed to be a truce,” Luke translated, “but we can’t take any
chances. We’re on our own here.”
droid trilled out a question.
“Yes, I want
it that way. And, no, I’m not going to get any help. I’ve got to do this
It squeaked in
indignation at that.
Artoo,” said Luke soothingly. “I meant ‘alone except for you.’“
around him thoughtfully as they moved further into the town. “The trick
is, getting a ship without any money. I’ve got a few hundred credits, but
not enough for...”
He stopped as
they entered the heart of the city and his eye lit on the big, dirty-white
dome of the port’s largest saloon, the Mos Eisley Cantina.
mused. “Artoo, didn’t Han tell us that he won the Falcon from Lando
Calrissian in a card game?”
answered with a flurry of shrill noises which sounded most distinctively
doubtful. Luke looked around at it in a hurt way.
“What do you
mean? I’m as good a card player as Han,” he said defensively. “And I
don’t need to use the Force to cheat, either. Come on.”
determinedly up to the cantina’s wide, main doors, Artoo rolling behind.
The droid stopped there, whistling worriedly.
said Luke. “Droids aren’t allowed. Well, just wait here. I should be
and squeaked some more.
replied. “I’m not afraid to go in there alone. Nobody here knows me.
I’ll be safe.”
persistently beeped more in an unconvinced tone.
“No, I’m not
trying to prove anything,” Luke said, amused. “Okay, so I did almost get
killed here once. But that was a long time ago. You know I don’t need a
Ben or a Han to bail me out anymore.”
He patted it
assuredly on the domed head, turned, put on a stern and most confident
look, and strode in through the doors.
Down a wide
flight of stairs beyond he entered an oval, half-lit den, its stagnant air
thick with the aroma of stale liquor and a blue-white smoke haze. Within
the curved length of bar at its center worked a fat, red-faced, and surly
looking attendant, serving drinks to the patrons surrounding him.
There were few
of these just now. A dozen beings of various types stood at the bar, a
dozen more were scattered amongst the tables around it. They were making
the best of entertaining themselves amidst a much subdued atmosphere.
There was no band, no music, no boisterous talk or sign of gaiety. Most
sat morosely over glasses or puffed drowsily on the stems of fuming hookah
pipes. A few conversed in a dull and sullen manner.
at the base of the stairs to look around. None of the patrons gave him
more than a casual return glance. His scanning gaze passed across the
room to focus on a far corner. Here several beings sat about a larger,
hexagon-shaped table. Each of the table’s six sides was fitted with the
small, hooded viewscreen of a computerized card-playing device. In the
table’s center rose the squat pagoda of the game’s machinery.
Luke made his
way to the table. Four of its six well-worn chairs were taken. A
half-fill mug of a thick, greenish fluid sat before a fifth.
“Got an extra
seat?” Luke inquired.
A being whose
grey, wet-skinned face was rimmed by a halo of writhing tentacles raised
pop-eyes to him.
“You wish to
play?” it asked in a low, liquid sounding voice.
“I’d like to
sit in for a few hands, if you don’t mind.”
The one to the
right of the two empty seats—a heavy, barrel-chested man sporting a bushy
mustache and a dour disposition—gestured to the spot beside him with a
stubby hand and rumbled: “Alluz roomfur fresh blood.”
The one next
to him—a cadaverous, red-skinned Devaronian—giggled nervously at this,
revealing the sharp-pointed teeth of a carnivore.
Luke sat down,
looking around at the others. Besides the three, a fourth being eyed him
somewhat timidly from the chair on the opposite side. This one was a
frail, deer-like creature with little antler buds, nervously twitching
nose, and big, dark, moist eyes.
When the young
Jedi made no immediate move, the mustached man grew impatient.
grumbled. “Whydntcha putchur money in? Aintcha ever played before?”
Luke said. He looked over the gaming machine. It had clearly seen a
great deal of wear. The hoods shielding the individual viewscreens were
badly battered. The central playing computer showed a few dents of its
own, and the grey metal rim around the wide mouth of its feed slot was
worn shiny from years of money being shoved through.
into his robe to pull a stack of flat credit plaques from a pocket. He
leaned forward and fed them one-by-one into the machine’s maw. It seemed
to gulp and smack electronically as it swallowed each piece. A readout of
the ingested cash showed on the tote board encircling its top.
being eyed the number and commented wetly: “Six hundred and fifty. Pretty
light. Barely a minimum stake for this game.”
bigger,” Luke answered breezily. “So, are we ready to play?”
on one more,” the mustached one said. “Here he is. Hey, Ponda!”
A figure moved
up beside Luke and plumped heavily down into the seat next to him. The
young Jedi glanced toward the newcomer and his eye first fell on the
glinting metal of a mechanical arm.
It was an
artificial limb of cheap and crude construction. The metal skeleton and
wire tendons were uncovered by bioflesh, and the stiff, knobby joints of
the sharp-taloned fingers made its hand look more like a claw.
lifted from the arm to its owner’s face, so close to his own and turned
toward him. The young Jedi managed not to register any shock at what he
It was the
walrus-like face of an Aqualish. A pair of yellowed, inward-turned tusks
protruded from a wide, bristled snout. The skin was smooth and shiny, the
eyes large and liquid black.
were now fixed searchingly upon Luke.
being named Ponda grunted in a guttural voice, “don’t I know you?”
him squarely in the eyes and said in a careless way, “I’ve been around
brought up a good left hand and rubbed the forearm of his metal limb.
“I’m sure I’ve met you,” he said musingly. “What’s your name?”
don’t want to know it,” Luke told him with more than a little truth. “I
wouldn’t want to scare anyone.”
You?” The man barked a laugh, then leaned closer. “Listen pup, my own
partner’s bought a death sentence on twelve systems, and he’s not so mean
as me. Why, I’m not scared of...”
willya?” the mustached man told him. He looked to Luke. “Sorry,
stranger, he sezzat to everyone. Big man. Big braggin’ sinz he teamed up
with that quack Evazan. But allzits boughtim’z trouble.” He spoke across
Luke to the one-armed being. “Look, the kidz got money. Thazall we care
about. Maybe youcun finally win enough to getta dezent bio-arm. So lez
glared around at the rest of the players, then sat back, curtly nodding
then,” the tentacled one said. “Computer, deal!”
clucked and burbled to life. It made a long, fluttering sound, as if real
pasteboards were being shuffled inside, and then the first of the card
symbols popped into view on the players’ screens.
them intently. Neither he nor any of the others gave note to a small,
baldish, nondescript man who ambled in and went up to the bar.
ordered a drink and then stood there quietly, sipping and looking about
with apparent disinterest. But his eyes went most often to the card came
proceeding at the table, fixing largely on Luke.
computer gave a derogatory-sounding bleat, and a red light flashed on
Luke’s view screen.
Luke shook his
head in chagrin as the row of card symbols faded. He looked up at the
central tote board. The figure indicating the amount of his credits grew
two hunnnerd left,” the mustached man commented. “You’re gettin’ clozeta
better,” Luke answered, but with somewhat less confidence than before.
you learn to bluff better than that,” the tentacled one said. “Your human
faces are all alike. So open, they cannot hide anything.”
said Luke. “Deal again.”
complied. Luke watched as the symbols for the dealt cards flashed up on
his screen. One, two, three card symbols, all unlike. A forth. A
fifth. And suddenly, he had two pairs.
fifty,” the metal-armed Aqualish said.
The bet went
around once, and all of them stayed in. With some confidence, Ponda upped
fifty more. Luke saw him, as did the Mustached one and the cadaverous
Devaronian. The fawn-like creature shook its head nervously and dropped
The bet came
to Tentacles. “I’ll see that fifty,” he announced, “and I’ll raise one
accepted, passing the bet to Luke. The young man considered his hand
again, then nodded. “All right. I’ll see that too.”
But both the
Mustached man and the Devaronian found it too rich and pulled out. Only
three were left.
it’s up to me,” Tentacles said. He fixed his pop-eyes right on Luke and
said with a certain cruel glee: “I’ll raise five hundred more.”
finished,” the metal-armed Ponda declared gruffly, sitting back.
Luke met the
slimy creature’s gaze. “You know I haven’t got anything left.”
bad,” the other oozed in a tone of phony sympathy while its tentacles
jiggled in delight. “You are through either way: not enough to see me and
stay in the hand; nothing left to play on with if you fold. You wish to
said with force. He considered, then boldly made the commitment: “Look,
I’ve got something else. A good droid. An R2 unit. It’s in prime
condition. I could put up that.”
one sniffed. “An astromech droid? I wouldn’t give more than a thousand
for such a thing. No matter how prime.”
accepted quickly. “Then I’ll put up my droid against you. Five hundred
to see you, and another five on top of that!”
some gasps of surprise around the table.
thouzzand?” the mustached one said. “You muztave some cardz boy!”
“No,” said the
tentacled one with certainty. He leaned forward and stared intently at
Luke’s face. “He’s bluffing. He must be!”
Straight-faced, Luke stared right back into the bulging eyes. In a calm
voice filled with confidence, he said slowly: “It’s up to you to find out
now, isn’t it? All you have to do is call.”
tried to meet his eyes defiantly for a long moment. But a glint of
uncertainty dawned in the popping orbs, and it grew brighter as Luke’s
return stare didn’t waver. Finally the being’s gaze faltered, dropping
Tentacles said in a beaten tone. “I don’t think I will.”
Luke gave a
small, inaudible sigh of relief. He relaxed.
said amiably, “I thank you all very much, but I think that I’d better quit
while I’m at least a little ahead.”
leave after winning a pot like that?” a dismayed Ponda asked.
seems fair,” the cadaverous one said in a sepulchral voice.
one said nothing, looking only the more timorous.
told them. “I’ve already taken chances enough. I need to put these
winnings to good use. Computer, cash me in.”
A dispenser at
the bottom of the central machine began disgorging his credits into a
tray. He scooped out the plaques, stacked them, and began shoving them
into pockets under his cloak.
“I have to
know,” the defeated Tentacles said as Luke worked. “What was in your
being said with chagrin, tentacles drooping. “I had three of a kind. I
am a fool. Humans can bluff after all.”
too bad,” Luke told him consolingly. “I really just got lucky.”
He pulled the
last credits together, shoving the packet into a bulging tunic pocket. As
he did so, the robe fell aside. The metal-armed being beside him caught a
glimpse of the lightsaber dangling on his belt.
A light dawned
in the liquid black eyes.
With the last
of the money put away, Luke said, “I thank you gentlemen,” and pushed his
chair back to rise.
But the metal
claw suddenly clamped down over his left arm, pinning it as the sharp
talons drove deep into the tabletop.
Luke looked up
into the face of the Aqualish who had risen to stand crouched over him.
His good hand rested on the butt of a blaster holstered on his left hip.
“I know you
now!” Ponda snarled. “You’re going to die!”
minute,” Luke said, maintaining his poise without a missed beat, “Just
what do you mean?”
“I mean that
you’re the one who cut my arm off!” Ponda Baba grated out through clenched
teeth. “In a fight four years ago!”
“And, if I
waiting a long time to get even for that,” the other said. “You know how
long it took me to learn to shoot with my left hand?”
think you’d want to be careful not to lose that one too,” Luke told him,
the threat clear in his voice. “Now, please, just back away.”
Ponda bellowed in rage, yanking out his blaster.
But before it
could clear the holster, Luke had acted. He jerked up from his seat,
driving his head hard into the other’s face.
in pain and staggered backward, his metal claw coming free of Luke’s arm.
He hit a chair and toppled heavily to the floor.
The Jedi was
up in an instant, one hand darting into his robe to seize the lightsaber’s
other side, the mustached man sat frozen in shock. The Devaronian and
Tentacles likewise stayed put. But across the table, the fawn-like one
made its own play. In a quick, agile move it jumped up in its seat, one
slender arm rising to lift an enormous ax into view above the table top.
gleaming cruelly, little mouth twisted in a snarl, it brought the weapon
higher to strike.
whipped the lightsaber free of the cloak. He switched it around and the
bright blade flashed out.
The ax swung
up to sweep at Luke as he swung his glowing sword around toward it. The
Jedi warrior’s move was an instant faster.
tip slammed across the center of the long ax handle, raising a shower of
splinters as it sliced the wood through. The energy of the blade sizzled
along the weapon and into the creature, slamming it back down in its seat,
metal-armed Ponda had now recovered and was starting to get up. Luke
leaped away from the table to stand over him. The bright blade hung just
inches above the shoulder of his good arm, clearly threatening.
“Do you still
want to try it?” Luke asked in a chill voice.
looked from the glowing beam up to Luke’s determined face. His hand
released the blaster and it dropped to the floor.
He kicked the
weapon away and stepped past Ponda into an open area of floor, pivoting
slowly to face the others in the bar, swinging the lightsaber to keep any
other prospective attackers at bay.
“Now, I intend
to leave here with no more trouble,” he told them. “So if everyone will
You!” a voice called from the main doors.
around to it to see a half dozen stormtroopers rushing through the
entranceway. The loud clicks from their blaster rifles told him the
weapons were being powered up for action.
about him for escape. At the back of the drinking hall he spied an arched
opening with kegs stacked at either side. He turned and rushed for it.
The troopers started across the floor after him, roughly shoving patrons
through the archway, finding himself in a crammed storeroom. A narrow
avenue through its piled crates and kegs led to a closed rear door. He
moved to it. The metal panel was fitted with a bolt and a heavy padlock.
He lifted the lightsaber and made a slash at the lock. The blade struck
sparks from the metal and cut deep.
But the lock
troopers reached the archway from the bar. But as one headed through it,
the high stack of kegs at one side suddenly toppled. Some of them knocked
him down, where two troopers tripped over him. Others rolled off, bowling
two more men down.
nondescript, balding man who had shoved the kegs over quickly sidled away
and slunk toward the front of the bar in the confusion he had caused.
lifted his blade to strike at the padlock.
trooper still on his feet clambered over his struggling fellows and got
through the door.
down hard. The lock came free. He threw the bolt and wrenched the door
open. The street lay beyond.
raised his rifle and aimed.
forward as the man fired. The bolt exploded against the door jamb as he
vanished through it, tearing a ragged hole.
was running, angling left to pelt at full speed back around the building
to its front.
He paused as
he neared the front, peering past the last curve of wall to the main
doors. There were no troopers posted there, no one at all about except
for the still-waiting droid.
from behind him prompted him to move on quickly again. He ran around
past, then away from the saloon, shouting back to the droid:
Artoo. Follow me!”
droid obeyed as well as it could, immediately rolling off after him at top
Luke led it
through the town market place and into the closest side street, staying
well ahead of it as he sprinted down the narrow avenue and took a turn at
the first crossroads.
rolled to the crossing, turned, but then stopped as its eye took in an
empty street ahead. Nothing was visible there but the monotonous domed
structures lining the way close on either side.
forward slowly, head swiveling nervously in search of its suddenly
vanished master. It gave a little whimper of distress.
rounded top of its head the tiny sensor dish lifted on its extendable rod
and began to rotate as the droid rolled slowly ahead. But when Artoo
passed a narrow, dark alley between two structures, two hands shot out to
grab it and haul it back out of sight.
It squealed in
alarm, but then its head swiveled around and it saw its assailant.
It was Luke.
The droid began to rock back and forth and squeak in its joy.
Luke said sharply, rapping it on the head.
instantly still. Luke warily peered out past it, around the corner into
the street. There was no sign of stormtroopers.
“Looks like we
lost them for now, Artoo,” he said. He looked ruefully at the still
glowing lightsaber. “Too bad they all saw this.” He snapped it off and
hung it back away under his robe. “They’ll probably be looking for me
now. We’ll have to get off Tatooine fast. Come on.”
He stepped out
into the street again and looked around. With Artoo close behind he moved
down to the next crossroads. Here he stopped to examine the symbols
painted on the walls at each corner.
“I know the
dealer we have to go to,” Luke said as he considered the street signs. “A
Vuvrian named Wioslea. I sold my land speeder to her. She’s got all
kinds of used ships. Cheap ones too. If I can just figure directions
While he mused
over this, the waiting Artoo idly panned the scene. The lens stopped as
it fell upon a most mangy, cat-like creature of matted orange fur sitting
close by, staring at them.
beeped a questioning message to Luke.
Artoo?” he said, looking around from the signs to the watching feline.
“That? Just some stray. Probably after a handout. Never mind it. I
think I’ve got the way. Let’s go.”
away up a cross-street, the droid falling in beside him. It made another
questioning series of noises as they went.
“Yes, I think
I’ll have enough to buy something, Artoo,” he replied. “If I do some
sharp bargaining, that is. I didn’t do as well as I hoped, but at least I
doubled my money.
It gave an
“No, I didn’t
cheat for it,” Luke said. “I told you I wouldn’t. But if I had, you
really shouldn’t have minded Artoo... considering I bet you.”
A torrent of
outraged tweets and squawks poured from it as they went on, fading way as
they proceeded down the avenue.
orange cat sat waiting where it was, staring after them with bright green
eyes until they were a safe distance ahead.
Only then did
it follow after them, slinking along from shadow to shadow to stay well
out of sight.
Falcon and its escorting fighters came out of their light speed corridor
within close proximity of a planet.
Leia and Gowan
were up into the cockpit at once to peer curiously out over the heads of
Han and Chewie as they flew in toward the bleak-looking, grey-brown
The details of
it increased as they drew nearer, but that did little to alter a first
impression of the world’s dismalness.
It seemed an
utterly stark planet of rock, devoid of any sign of vegetation or water.
Not even a dust storm disturbed the barren scene, nor the faintest wisps
of an atmosphere obscured the view. The only feature breaking the
monotonous wastes was what seemed to be huge volcanic cones thrusting up
miles above the surface, widely scattered and irregularly spaced.
said in disbelief to Han. “You want us to meet there?”
Princess,” he told her assuredly. “The planet Pellkadarr. Best place
She shook her
head in doubt. “I don’t know. I wish you’d told me something about it.
Anything about it.”
said. “Just your Senator Valladian and me. I transmitted the directions
directly to him over his private channel. I figured the fewer who knew
anything the better. He agreed.”
she also agreed grudgingly. “That was probably wise.” But at his
responding smirk, she added sharply, “Just don’t let it go to your head.
I’ll withhold my judgment until I see where this meeting’s supposed to
be.” She looked out toward the planet again. “I sure don’t see any place
down there for it. I don’t see signs of any kind of life. I don’t even
see signs of any atmosphere.”
what it looks like. Nothing readable from out here at all. A totally
dead stone. That’s the beauty of it.” He grinned roguishly. “Just stick
“Have we got
another choice?” she asked.
“None at all.
Better strap in.”
As they sat
down in the rear seats and fastened the restraints, Han got on his comlink
to contact Gold Flight leader.
said, “we’re going in now. Get your boys and just follow me. Oh,” he
added, “and better keep ‘em bunched together good, okay?”
sure Han,” Wedge affirmed, but somewhat uncertainly.
Han said to his passengers, “here we go!”
With that he
sent the Falcon into a sharp descent toward the surface. The six fighters
pulled into tight formation and followed close.
seemed to come up rapidly as the ships fell toward it in full dive. And
Solo showed no signs of slowing.
“What are you
doing?” Leia demanded.
Han advised calmly. “Enjoy the ride.”
came crackling from the comm speaker: “Han, we’re coming in kind of fast.
Are you sure about this?”
me,” Han told him.
“I’m afraid I
can’t!” Gowan said in a voice rising with growing alarm. He looked
white-faced to Leia. “Is he a madman?”
going too fast,” Leia said sternly. “If you’re pulling some childish kind
of flyboy stunt, stop it! We could crash!”
to kill us!” Gowan cried.
and just steered them on in. “Where’s your guts, Princey?” he called
surface swelled to fill the view ahead as they plunged to meet it.
miles above the ground, with no time left to veer away, Solo altered their
trajectory just slightly. Instead of smashing down, the Falcon dove into
the open mouth atop of one of the peaks, the fighters close behind.
swallowed them. Han switched on the ship’s forward landing lights,
revealing a vertical tunnel, smooth- walled except for some faint,
underground,” Leia said to Han in disgust. “Why didn’t you just tell us?”
would that have been?” he replied. “You enjoyed it, didn’t you Gow?”
Leia looked to
Gowan. The Prince of Galvoni III was panting, sweating, and extremely
right,” she soothed him. “Han was only trying to scare us.”
quite well,” Gowan gasped, shooting a hot glare at their pilot. “I really
ought to strike you for that one, Solo.”
time,” Han cheerily offered. Then a point of light ahead, growing swiftly
larger, caught his eye. “Look out, we’re coming to the end...”
X-wings shot out of the tunnel and into the open again. But this space,
though quite vast, was still completely enclosed.
He turned the
ship to sail it horizontally between a ceiling and floor over three miles
apart. They now flew in what looked to be a cavern of immense
proportions. It stretched away in every direction as far as could be
seen, vanishing behind the curved wall of distance. And the view was
unbroken save for columns of stone, themselves a mile thick, which thrust
up here and there to support the ceiling.
Even with the
size, there was something about the place that made it seem other than
nature-made. The surfaces above and below were very smooth, marked only
by shallow crisscrossing grooves, as if created by enormous excavating
tools. And the huge columns were formed in a rough oval shape, as if
they’d been crudely hewn out.
If the size of
the place was astounding, its colors were more so. The floor and columns
were mostly of grey rock, but the ceiling was composed of a quartz-like,
translucent stone. It was striped through with sinuous streamers of warm
pastels, looking like an aurora borealis frozen in ice.
we?” Leia asked.
outer crust,” said Han. “Five miles down.”
“If this place
is so hidden,” the Prince said with suspicion, “just how did you know
about it, Solo?”
buddies of mine found this place years ago,” Han explained. “Figured it
was perfect. Invisible and unknown.”
“Have you any
friends who aren’t outlaws?” Gowan asked nastily.
Prince boy,” Solo returned. “Anyway, they set up an HQ here. Worked out
of it for years. Then the Empire caught up with them. Wiped out most of
their operation. The place was abandoned.”
into the cockpit, glancing about. “Oh, have we arrived?” he inquired
could join us,” Han told him. “Yeah, we’re here.”
looked out at the scene. “Subterranean. Not very interesting, is it?” he
said in a bored way.
“I think it
is,” Leia said, obviously impressed. “Where did it come from?”
“Eaten out I
heard,” Han said. “Found some fossils—big ones. Things like giant
moles. I’m guessing these rocks release chemicals that make the air
breathable in here, and the things went tunneling all through these
layers to get it. None of ‘em around now though. Must’ve died out
an atmosphere in here, but what about light?” she asked, looking out into
the soft but sufficient illumination diffused evenly through the space.
“Ask the Professor that one.”
of your use of that nickname,” the droid replied in a discernibly haughty
way. “Still, as you have deferred to my superior knowledge, I will
He put on a
crisp, lecturing tone:
formation of silica-based substratum which forms the layer above us
contains a high percentage of elements of an especially phosphoric
variety. In such high concentrations as we encounter here, this produces
a substantive illuminating effect upon the cavernous area below.”
said Solo, looking back to the droid.
“To place it
on your level of comprehension,” Threepio said disdainly, “the rocks
Irked by the
tone, Han opened his mouth to reply, but a loud “gronk” from Chewie
brought his attention back to the front window.
“There it is,”
he said, pointing ahead. “The base.”
distance, a comparatively tiny huddle of buildings showed against the base
of a roof pillar. Nearby it was the smoothed out circle of a landing
pad. A single, Lambda-class shuttle craft sat there.
your Imperial party beat us here,” Han said. He got on the comm line.
“Wedge? Why don’t you take the boys out in a wide sweep around them. Be
sure they’re alone.”
obeyed, swinging out to scour the area far around while the Falcon circled
the base at a safe distance.
“No one else
we can see, Han,” Wedge reported back.
Han. “I’ll take the Falcon in. But keep the boys flying, okay? Keep a
good lookout. I still don’t trust them.”
Han glided the
ship in. A reception party of the Imperials was visible, waiting by its
own craft. As the Falcon settled to the ground in a last blast of
repulsorlift power, this group strode forward, stopping midway between.
out toward the group of robed and sashed men.
“All the ones
there look like senators,” she said. “No military around. And I’m fairly
sure the silver-haired one is Senator Valladian.”
going out first to check,” Han said. “Come on Chewie.”
started to get up, Leia rose as well. “I’ll go too.”
“No,” Han said
firmly. “You’re ambassador now, remember? Too valuable to take chances.
He and the
Wookiee moved to the cockpit door.
remember,” Gowan called after them. “It’s a peace mission.
Han repeated. “Oh, sure.”
the door he paused to pull a small blaster from a locker and conceal it
beneath the back of his vest.
The two went
on to the boarding ramp, and Chewie pushed the button to lower it. As
they waited for it to drop, Leia came up to them.
“Come to kiss
me good-bye?” Han asked with sarcasm.
she replied sharply, “I just came after you to say I don’t know what you
were pulling with that jealous stunt...”
echoed in disbelief. “Me?”
jealous. But making Gowan look bad won’t help anything. It’s the
Galaxy’s problems we’re here to solve, not our own. So, leave him alone.
whatever you say,” Han agreed with a certain contriteness. “I just hope
he’s got more nerve for the conference than he showed just now.”
He signaled to
Chewie and they strode down the ramp to the ground. Leia watched him go,
then went back to the cockpit. She arrived in time to see man and Wookiee
reach the waiting party. She watched tensely as they met.
walked casually, hands at his sides and well away from the concealed
weapon, Han scrutinized the group suspiciously on approach, clearly
anticipating a trick. But the group of some two dozen cloaked men, mostly
elderly, made no overt move.
The frail but
distinguished one in their front raised a hand in greeting as the two came
said in a soft but still powerful voice. “Are you Captain Solo?”
acknowledgment. “And you’re Senator Valladian?”
“Correct. I am
glad to meet you.” He looked around him with open appreciation. “It’s a
very clever place you’ve picked.”
have a good idea now and then.”
the man said, eying him. “From the reports I’ve had of you, you’re most
shrewd. Tell me, is the Princess Leia with you? I haven’t seen her since
she was a girl.”
“You can come
onboard and meet her,” Han offered, “...if you don’t mind coming alone.”
laughed. “Testing me, Captain Solo? Of course I’ll come with you. You
have my complete trust. Oh, and you needn’t hide your weapon any longer,
Captain. You’ll have no need of it.”
surprised by that. “You’re pretty shrewd yourself,” he said.
have survived so long in the Empire without being so.” The senator
stepped forward and clapped a hand on his arm. “Come, my boy. Let’s
visit the Princess.”
“Your ship is
ready,” a voice called.
awoke from his doze and sat up on the row of crates he used as a couch,
instantly alert. At the door of the grubby little storage room in which
Luke was keeping out of sight stood the twelve-eyed insectoid known as
This member of
the Vuvrian race was slender and yellow-green, with its long tube of
abdomen upheld on stalky legs covered by simple robes. The large oblong
head sported two long antennae and the numerous round eyes that some found
time, Wioslea” Luke said, getting up and stretching. “No problems?”
“Oh no,” the
being cheerily assured him in a smooth drone of voice. “The ship is in
prime condition, as you verified yourself. Just getting it fueled. That
and a bit of cosmetic work. Cleaning up. Washing down. Can’t have
customers leaving here in an untidy ship.”
Luke, “but I am in kind of a hurry.”
He got up from
the crates and crossed to a corner where R2-D2 was plugged into a power
outlet. The little droid was shut down while its systems recharged. He
tapped it on the head.
came back to humming, beeping life. Luke unplugged it, and it sucked the
power coupling back into a hatch.
follow me,” requested the Vuvrian, and led the way out into a corridor
lined with racks of tools and doors to other parts storerooms.
the being said as they went along it, “I was considering again what a fine
deal you got there.”
“I thought so
too,” Luke replied.
deal,” Wioslea told him. “I just couldn’t turn you down.” But then he
looked away, murmuring, “Although, I’ve absolutely no idea why.”
They came out
of the corridor and into a large compound fenced around with high
barricades of wire. Its considerable area was crowded with a variety of
ships, mostly smaller ones, and quite worn. As they wound their way
through the maze of craft, much activity went on around them. The
screaming and ratcheting sounds of power tools were nearly deafening. The
sparking light of welding torches flared in several places, and the hot
ozone smell of burning filled the air. Dozens of small creatures swarmed
everywhere doing all the work. They were human-shaped, although
everything but their glowing eyes was hidden by floppy, hooded cloaks.
swiveled about, taking in these odd little beings. The droid made some
sharp noises of clear distaste.
them. They’re some of the best mechanics around here.”
cheaply too,” the insect-like being put in. “And, when things are very
tight, why, they’re quite tasty as well.”
sharply to the creature to see if he was joking. The Vuvrian’s mouth flap
seemed to widen into a ghastly semblance of a grin.
your ship,” Wioslea said, unfolding one foreleg to point.
Ahead of them
sat a sleek, smooth-hulled YT-1760, perhaps half the size of the
Millennium Falcon. One end was an egg-shaped passenger module with the
round viewing windows of a cockpit at the pointed front. Attached to the
fatter rear were the square mass of its engine and the huge cones of three
powerful-looking thrusters. These made the whole propulsion package look
larger than the rest of the ship.
A small gaggle
of Jawas were still moving around and underneath it in what seemed last
minute inspection. The Vuvrian stepped up to one of them and asked:
“Is it ready
The Jawa gave
a salute and jabbered an affirmative.
crew off then,” Wioslea ordered. “The new owner wishes to go.”
saluted again and trilled shrilly to the others, waving its short arms.
The Jawas swiftly moved away from the ship, forming into a little,
fluttering flock nearby.
turned to Luke.
hyperdrive speedster should certainly take you as far as you want to go,
and as fast too. Not much comfort though. It’s strictly a sport craft
built for power.”
“That’s why I
picked her,” said Luke.
good luck to you,” Wioslea told him. “Oh, and, if you’re ever interested
in a job, I could certainly put you to work selling machines here. With
your skill we could both make a fortune.” The Vuvrian rubbed his forearms
together all the more briskly at the thought.
“Thank you for
the offer,” Luke said. “But I don’t know if I’ll ever be coming this way
again. Good-bye to you.”
He went up the
portable landing ramp set against the ship’s side and through an open
hatch. Artoo rolled up and followed him in. The hatch closed. Moments
later Luke came back into view at the cockpit window. He waved down to
the insect-like dealer. The whine of engines revving up came from the
still-grinning being waved a forearm in reply and moved back as the ship
started to lift. The Vuvrian and his Jawa crew stood watching as the
craft lifted straight skyward for some distance, then ignited its main
engines to shoot up and away.
None of them
gave notice to one Jawa at the back of their group who took advantage of
the distraction to creep stealthily away.
well-furnished but clearly neglected room, the peace meeting between the
Alliance and Empire was close to getting underway.
The room of
the smuggler’s base chosen for the conference had apparently been some
kind of dining hall. Its wide variety of tables and chairs were of
elegant design, superb craftsmanship, and exotically patterned woods. The
rich textures of table services in a myriad of materials and styles filled
breakfronts lining the walls. And in the room’s center hung a huge
chandelier of dangling jewel pendants. All these things bore clear
evidence of the onetime successful smuggling operation which had gleaned
the finest booty from all across the galaxy. But the thick pall of dust
covering everything also spoke of its long abandonment.
Han and Chewie
had taken some time to wipe the dust from some furniture and then move it
together to form a single long conference table flanked by chairs.
Several Imperial delegates now sat there, deep in conversation with Gowan.
C-3PO stood behind the prince, taking no part in the talk, staring ahead
in a detached way. Other of the Imperial senators talked amongst
themselves, while Valladian held a private discussion with Leia and Han.
understand you not giving us much trust,” the Senator said to Han. “The
Empire has certainly not done anything to earn it.”
“Sorry to seem
hostile,” Han replied. “I’ve just spent a lotta years being sure
they’d...you’d rather shoot me than talk to me.”
“I afraid I
must agree with you there,” the senator said. “To be frank, most of them
would rather see the rebellion destroyed than have to deal with it.
Still, we here who believe most wholeheartedly in peace have forged a
strong coalition. In this season of fear and confusion, we have for the
moment become the ones wielding the power. If we can seize that moment to
make a fair peace, I believe we can maintain the control.”
seen the Empire as just a military establishment,” Han said thoughtfully,
“faceless, soulless, mindlessly following the leader. It’s nice to find
some humanity in there.”
“Don’t be too
in awe of my great altruism, young man,” Valladian cautioned. “Like
everyone, I have some selfish motives in what I do. I am trying to
salvage at least something of my own society out of this debacle, and I
seek to gain a position of real authority for myself again as well. But
on the unselfish side, I would like to see a time when the old days of
honor are returned. I am very old.” He smiled at Leia. “The Princess
knows how old. I remember well what life was like before...
well... all of this. Before treachery and violence became the way of
things. It was a time of graciousness, bounty, and peace, wherein all
“I have some
sense of it,” Leia said nostalgically. “On Alderaan they had preserved
much of the old ways—its beauties, its beliefs, its freedoms.” She
paused, then added sadly, “All wiped away.”
a hand upon her shoulder. “Perhaps here, if the Force is with us all, we
can make a beginning to restore that life to us. And young people like
you two will shape it.” He looked around at the others who were glancing
toward them expectantly now.
“Ah, he said,
“they are waiting for us. I believe it’s time we should begin.”
toward the tables. Leia looked to Han.
she said a bit awkwardly, “I suppose you...”
“Yeah I know,”
he said. “I’m in the way here. You don’t have to kick me out.”
He held up a
staying hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll wait outside... with the rest of the
He turned away
toward the door. But he was stopped by a faint rumbling sound.
chandelier shook slightly, as if the faintest breeze had shivered it. The
faceted jewels flickered with light. Han noted it and looked back to her.
“Did you feel
that?” he asked.
puzzled. “Feel what?”
As if in
answer, a louder rumbling sounded. The chandelier shook harder, its jewel
pendants tinkling together, drawing all eyes to it. This time the
vibration continued, swiftly increasing in power along with the growing
looked around in alarm. The room was visibly shuddering now. Glassware
and plates were bouncing on their shelves, some crashing down.
Solo made a
decision. “Everyone—outside!” he barked, and headed for the door.
Leia and the
others didn’t hesitate to follow him outside. As Han came through the
building’s doorway, he stopped, Leia stopping beside him. While the
others poured out past them into the open, he surveyed the cavernous space
about them carefully. Chewbacca and the pilots of Gold Flight who were
standing nearby were already looking around in concern.
“What is it?”
Leia said, nearly shouting to be heard over the rising noise. “An
know,” he told her. “It’s all around us.” He lifted his voice to yell
toward his comrades: “Wedge! Get to your ships! Chewie, go fire up the
Wookiee immediately took off at a run for the craft parked across the
landing pad. But they were only halfway to them when the rumble changed
abruptly to a roar, and large fragments of stone began raining down from
paused. All looked upward. Some way beyond the end of the landing pad a
huge circular spot had appeared on the ceiling of the cavern. The face of
the smooth rock glowed with swiftly growing intensity. Then it
disintegrated and was swept away as a swirling vortex of blue-white light
of light above them drew the attention of the watchers. They looked
around to find two other bright disks eating down through the ceiling on
either side of them, the three forming a tight triangle about the
As the disks
dropped lower, their upper forms came into view. Each revealed itself as
a massive machine of dull grey metal a hundred yards across. From the
flat base with its whorl of disintegrating beams, the sides sloped up and
inward, forming a dome eighty feet high.
When the whole
of this dome had dropped clear of the shaft it had drilled, large panels
checkering its sides slid open. Pairs of long, black tubes slid out from
each hole into view—the twin barrels of heavy turbolaser batteries. The
tiny figures of their black-garbed gun crews could be seen inside,
scrambling to firing positions. Within a few heartbeats each machine’s
rounded hull bristled with some forty sets of barrels in four tiers.
stared up at these floating gun platforms in astonishment.
Subterranean Tunneling Attack Modules!” a horrified Valladian gasped out.
Hedgehogs!” Han said grimly, supplying their nickname. “And ready to fill
us full of laser bolt quills. Let’s get the hell out of here!”
Leia’s hand and started for their ship.
bewildered by the events, hesitated. But it was only for an instant.
turbolasers on all three ST-AMs opened fire. The first red bolts of their
energy arrowed in, striking the buildings. One exploded in a fat blossom
for the Falcon, Threepio behind him. The senators broke and ran for their
own craft in panic as fire fell all about them. All but Valladian. Leia,
seeing this, pulled her hand from Han’s and ran back to him. Han,
still stood motionless, stunned, staring up at the craft in disbelief.
cried in dismay. “Why are they doing this?”
later!” Han told him. “Come on!”
He grabbed one
of Valladian’s arms and Leia the other. Together they hustled the older
man toward the ship, following the droid and Gowan who had gone on ahead
without even looking back.
fire was raining down thickly about them. Some of the senators were hit
by a blast as they crossed the open and were vaporized in an instant.
field, the Gold Flight pilots had reached their X-wings and were climbing
aboard. One died in the act as a bolt struck his fighter, blowing it
apart. The others were safely aboard and firing up engines as something
else appeared from the newly bored holes above.
Strings of TIE
fighters shot down out of the openings into the cavern. They opened fire
at once as they targeted objects below, sweeping in to strafe.
More of the
senators went down as the laser bolts exploded around them. A second
X-wing on the ground and then a third just lifting off were hit, turning
to blooms of flame and debris.
Han, Leia, and
the senator reached the Falcon’s ramp. Gowan and Threepio had already
reached the top and were going inside. Valladian pulled up there to look
back. He saw two more of his fellows cut down by a TIE fighter’s fire.
The rest ran a last gauntlet to reach their shuttle’s landing ramp.
them,” said Han. “Inside!”
They all but
carried the senator up the ramp and into the ship. Meantime, the
remaining X-wings got safely airborne and went sweeping courageously up to
meet the enemy.
were an immense target, and the TIE fighters were so thick about them that
the daring X-wing pilots found themselves in a turkey shoot. They slashed
savagely back and forth through their opponents, hitting something with
nearly every shot.
attack successfully distracted the Imperials, drawing much of the fire to
them. And rash Imperial gunners, frantic to hit the stinging fighters,
instead began hitting their own ST-AM’s with crossed laser bolts.
In the Falcon,
Han and Leia paused to deposit Valladian on a couch in the lounge. Gowan
was collapsed on the seat there, Threepio standing idly by. The other
two ignored them in their rush to the cockpit.
prepping the ship for quick takeoff.
asked Han, dropping into his seat. “Let’s go!”
He grabbed for
the controls. Across the pad from them, the Imperial shuttle was already
lifting, its side wings coming down.
shot hit its nose, driving it back down. It smashed against the ground.
A second shot went home squarely against its back, annihilating it in a
plume of flame. Han and his comrades winced back at the brilliant glare.
“Oh no!” Leia
gasped in horror at the senators’ destruction. “Han...”
dead. We’re still alive,” he snapped. “Chewie, hit it!”
Wookiee activated lift thrusters. The Falcon began to rise.
A crimson bolt
shot past the windows to blow a crater in the floor just ahead. The
blast rocked the ship.
was close!” said Han.
closer,” Leia said, pointing up.
top windows they could see the twin muzzles of a ST-AM’s turbolaser
battery pointed right at them.
From the side,
an X-wing shot into view. Its own guns fired, the bolts hitting the
battery squarely. Both turbolasers and a section of the big machine’s
“Okay, get out
of there!” Wedge’s voice came from the comm speaker. “Quick. We can’t
One of the
other X-wings took a hit from a tailing TIE fighter and spiraled in to
“You get out
too, Wedge,” Han ordered. “And try and take some of them with you!”
go,” Wedge told his last wingman.
headed straight in at one of the machines. Their fire blasted two
batteries, the flames and smoke blinding the other gunners. The fighters
shot up past them only yards away, skimming over the hedgehog’s top and
into the hole above.
A dozen of the
Imperial fighters followed them. At the same time, Han was sending the
Falcon forward, shooting the gap between two of the hovering metal
monsters. Their crisscrossing fire fell about the ship. One bolt caught
the rear quarter a glancing blow, jarring it hard.
deflector out!” Han called as a red warning light pulsed. “But we’re
big machines, yes. But a dozen more TIE fighters were in hot pursuit.
In the shaft
from the surface, the two X-wings streaked upward, followed by another
dozen enemy craft. Their targeting computer screens began to flash a
warning of objects ahead.
fighters coming down!” the other pilot cried in alarm.
Wedge said cooly. “Just stay steady. Steady...”
ships ahead closed, their own pilots taken aback to see fighters
ascending. Wedge used their distraction against them.
“Fire now!” he
lasers took out two of the Imperials. The third one shot between them,
still not firing back, and collided with one of those in pursuit, taking
it and three behind it out in a single ball of flame.
blasted from the hole into the open, heading up into space and away.
On the Star
Destroyer hanging high above the surface, Tharkus was overseeing the
battle on a bank of sensor screens. When he saw the surviving TIE
fighters appear in pursuit of the rebel fighters, he got on a comlink to
chasing those small ships. Everyone after the large one. It mustn’t
the planet, the Falcon was at the moment trying hard to do just that.
“If we can
stay ahead of the fighters until we find the next tunnel out,” Han was
saying, “we might just...
interrupted by a commanding voice from the comm speaker:
Falcon... surrender,” it said. “You can’t get away.”
Han asked Leia.
Tharkus,” said a voice behind them.
around to see Valladian in the doorway, his face grim. He stepped forward
to reply into the comm mike.
are you doing?” he demanded.
said the voice, faintly surprised. “So, you survived.”
madman! You’ve broken the treaty and committed high treason.”
contrary,” was the chill reply. “It is you and your senators who have
conspired to betray the Empire, and I’ve sentenced you to death.”
“You can’t do
“Who will stop
will. You’re condemning them all to destruction.”
“I think not.
I’m saving them from the likes of you. Surrender, Captain Solo. I want
only Valladian. The rest of you won’t be harmed.”
“Go to hell,”
Han told him.
around a pillar by a whisker’s breadth. Ahead in the ceiling was the
black spot of another tunnel to the surface.
straight for it. But as he drew nearer, a dozen more TIE fighters swept
down out of it, forming up to block him as they dropped into the open.
He brought the
Falcon around in a sharp, banking turn, catching the following TIE
fighters by surprise. The bigger ship flashed through them before any
could fire and headed back the opposite way, now with two dozen enemies
could be seen the swarming mass of dozens more, spreading themselves to
create a barrier before him.
said heavily. “Maybe now I’m trapped.”
streaked in from all around them, stitching the Falcon into a net of red
made the jump all right, Artoo,” Luke said, rising from the pilot’s seat
of his new craft. He looked around the cockpit appreciatively. “Not a
bad ship.” He looked to the droid. “Well, what do you say we relax?
It’s going to be a while to the Unknown Regions.” He headed for the
hatchway to the back. “I think I’ll just get a little...”
buzzer sounded on the console.
wrong?” he said, checking the instruments. “We’re dropping out of
He sat back
down in the seat as the ship slowed and normal space again came into
view. The winking dots of individual stars became visible, and the
brighter points of some nearer plants showed too.
And right dead
ahead of them was the immense, flaring sphere of a quickly swelling,
good,” said Luke with concern. He consulted his readouts. “And we’re
caught in its gravitational field. Engines are out.” He looked to the
droid. “See what’s the matter, Artoo.”
It rolled to a
cylindrical access port for the shipboard computer, extended its own male
connector and plugged in. As it began to read the ship’s systems, a
sexless, matter-of-fact voice sounded softly through the ship.
temperature rising. Five minutes to integrity breakdown.”
Artoo began to
twitter and squeak excitedly.
restart?” Luke read his reply on the readout. “The flight computer’s been
shorted out, the hyperdrive’s down, and the power couplings are burned!
Great! Can we fix them?”
It beeped a
“What do you
mean, ‘not a chance’?” Luke said in alarm.
until breakdown,” the uncaring voice said.
told it with some urgency, “If we can’t fix them, we’re going to
Luke’s brow as the ship drew closer to the sun. The ship’s interior
temperature was rising fast.
still accessing the propulsion systems data, searching for anything it
could do to regain power. Without success. Luke had a floor access panel
up and was checking the wiring.
until breakdown,” the computer tonelessly pointed out.
Luke pulled up
a bundle of turbo generator circuits. Some kind of energy surge had fused
them into a jumbled mass. Luke looked on the damage with despair.
“It’s going to
take more than a Jedi miracle to sort this out in time,” Luke said,
frustrated. Then he added, “Well, Obi-Wan, looks like I’m really into it
He wiped the
dripping sweat from his eyebrows and looked around. His attention was
caught by an odd phenomenon. His view of one section of the cabin seemed
to be growing hazy, as if the heat were affecting the atmosphere.
He blinked and
looked again. The hazy area seemed confined to a single, small spot near
the floor. He stared harder. Within the spot a shape began to form. It
was a shadow at first, but it quickly took on color and detail.
was the figure of an odd, hunchbacked little being of pursed features,
wrinkled grey skin, and large pointed ears. It was dressed in a robe and
carried a knobbed, gnarled stick.
said in astonishment.
give up, do you?” the Jedi master rasped out in a scolding voice. “Your
bad habits—still with you they are.”
really here?” Luke asked him, stepping closer.
“Only to your
eyes am I,” he replied. “Come back, I have, to give much needed advice.”
said I couldn’t get help once I started the quest.”
no. But from Yoda was there more to be said. Concerning, it is, this
road you now travel. Doubts, I have about it.”
think I should do it?”
Yoda shook his
head. “No. Find the Jedi’s Heart you must. But your motives—examined
them, have you? If not pure, doomed to fail you are.”
“I want to
understand the Force,” Luke said, “and my part in it.”
countered. “For the good of yourself alone is it?”
until breakdown,” the computer mentioned.
could we talk later?” Luke said. “I’m kind of in a tough spot right now.”
that,” Yoda said, waving dismissingly. “This spot is of your own
choosing, young Jedi. Evidence is it of what I say.” He lifted the stick
to shake at Luke. “Reckless are you, still. Too headstrong. Going off
on this quest so rashly. Taking such chances. To prove
something could it be?”
“I thought I
was supposed to do it alone,” Luke said defensively.
dangerous ways? Nearly died you have—three times. Listen to me.
More than once before has your need to act for your own ends endangered
all you fight for. Certain you must be that it is not happening again.
Now it is good-bye I must say. My time with you is ended.”
With this his
image began to grow dim.
until breakdown,” the computer put in.
called after the vanishing being. “Yoda, can’t you help me?”
“No need,” he
called back in a fading voice. “Just consider what truly drives you in
your quest, young Jedi. And remember that the real power of the Force
wells from a peaceful mind.”
As these last,
faint words came to him, Yoda disappeared.
seconds until breakdown,” the mechanical voice said.
the advice anyway, Yoda,” Luke said to the empty spot. “But it doesn’t
look like it going to do me much good now.”
seconds to breakdown,” the voice announced. “Twenty nine, twenty-eight,
continued the countdown, Luke turned his attention back to the wiring. He
was streaming with sweat, his clothes soaked through with it. Still he
stubbornly went on checking through the fused circuits, seeking something
he could do.
droid detached itself from its futile work and rolled to him, squeaking
fella,” Luke said, rubbing its side. “I know you’ve done everything you
the voice droned on, “...fourteen ...thirteen... twelve...”
There was a
loud ‘clank’ from the ship’s rear.
shuddered as if something had gripped and shaken it. Its forward motion
abruptly stopped. It hung still in space for a moment, then it began to
temperature dropping,” the computer’s voice said. “Countdown canceled.”
Luke got up
and went to the console. Beyond the windows, the blazing sphere was
receding swiftly now. He consulted the readouts.
“We’re in a
tractor beam,” he told Artoo. “Something’s pulling us away.”
the rear viewer, and an image flickered to life on the screen. An
enormous hulking shape—squarish and almost featureless—was behind them and
drawing them closer.
“I don’t think
its Imperials,” Luke said. “It doesn’t look like any of their ships I
know. Not that it matters anyway. There’s nothing we can do to get
A door like a
vast, hinged jaws slowly opened on the square object’s front. The smaller
ship was drawn into it—swallowed as a razor shark would a hapless saradin.
The jaws closed.
fell about the devoured craft. Luke consulted his console again.
instruments don’t tell me anything,” he said. He checked the view screens
and looked out the window. “And all I can see out there is black.”
“clank” sounded and their motion stopped. Now there was only a faint hum
and vibration from the huge thing engulfing them.
“I hope it’s
not getting ready to digest us,” Luke said.
sound came from behind him. He went to the cockpit door and looked back
into the rear of his ship. The knocking was coming from the outer hull
“I think our
hosts have come to call,” Luke told the droid. He shrugged in
resignation. “We might as well see just who’s got us this time.”
He walked back
to the outer door. He spun its locking wheel and, with one hand on his
light saber’s hilt, pushed the door open.
creature stood there. It was chest-high to Luke, with wide head,
short-muzzled face, and squat, furry body.
the salvage scow Entrepreneur,” it said in a deep, growly voice.
“My name is Captain Lucky Thatch.”
Luke responded in surprise.
keep dodging them forever,” Leia pointed out.
to be a way out,” Han said stubbornly. “If we can just keep alive long
enough to find it...”
we’ve survived this long,” said Leia.
fancy flying,” he answered immodestly. “Plus some damn good shields.”
They were jolted by another hit on the port rear deflectors and Han
checked on its status anxiously. “Just pray they keep holdin’ up!”
swung the Falcon into a hard right turn to evade a TIE fighter streaking
across their bow.
ships, some two score of them now, were buzzing all about the speeding
Falcon as Han maneuvered her through the caverns playing hide-and-seek
around pillars as he, Leia, Chewbacca and Valladian searched desperately
for any way to go.
they’ve had every tunnel we’ve found to the surface blocked,” she said.
“And they’re closing their circle in around us tighter. It looks like a
solid ring now.”
just have to just blow a hole through it, won’t we, sweetheart?” he shot
back. “Chewie, take over,” he told the Wookie, getting up from his seat.
“I’m gonna man the quad guns.” He headed out the cockpit door, calling
back, “Oh, and keep looking for a tunnel!”
He ran back
along the corridors to the core access well that ran up and down to the
laser cannon turrets. He shouted to Gowan in the lounge.
Come here!” He pointed to the well. “Get on the lower guns. Quick. We
The man sat
unmoving, staring at him blankly with an eyebrow raised. “Excuse me?”
and stared at him in disbelief. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to
handle the guns.”
man,” Gowan said. “Never had any reason to. All my training has been
and looking great,” Han finished. “I know. But ya’d better learn how to
shoot real quick or...”
A laser bolt’s
explosion against the upper hull of the Falcon jarred her hard. A circuit
wiring panel in the bulkhead burst open and sparks showered down.
take care of that,” Han snapped at the still immobile droid.
Threepio didn’t move.
“I have warned
you about giving me orders, Solo,” he replied testily. “I will not do
your dirty work.”
the ladder and stepped toward him, face flushing with outrage. “My work?
Hey, we’re all going to die here!”
what you deserve,” the droid retorted, tone openly venomous now. “You and
all the rest of your rebel scum.”
Han grated, patience flown. “You metal junkheap. I’m switching you off!”
He moved in,
on the droid, an arm lifting.
swiftly countered with his own raised arm, fending Solo off.
with pain as the hard metal struck his forearm. He stepped back, grabbing
the bruised part. The droid dove forward upon him, its hands going to his
and overpowered, Han was driven back to slam against the bulkhead. The
droid’s body pinned him there as its fingers tightened on his throat.
at the metal body and arms to no avail. He looked to a watching Gowan.
have some... help here?” he gasped out.
“I... I’m not
sure what to do,” the aghast man helplessly replied.
another fighter swooped in on the Falcon, its fire striking the front hull
in a fiery burst. The ship shuddered again, and warning lights flashed
wildly on the cockpit console.
shield down,” Leia said, moving into Han’s seat to check the damage.
“Port beam shield failing. What’s Han doing back there?”
Han was, at
the moment, slowly choking to death. His view of the impassive, gold
metal face close before him was beginning to fade. He was ceasing to
struggle against the tightening hold. The breath gurgled in his throat.
A hand came up
behind the droid, opened a back panel, and flicked a switch inside. The
droid’s big eyes went instantly dark. The body drooped, the hands
dropping from Han’s throat.
Han shoved the
limp form backward, and it clattered full length to the deck. He saw that
it was Valladian who stood beside him.
that I’ve studied a bit of robotics,” the senator said.
Han said in a voice that rasped through his squeezed throat. He looked
around to see that Gowan had moved not one inch to help.
Prince,” he said sarcastically.
hit on the Falcon caused them all to stagger. A small splinter of the
laser bolt breached the hull and zipped in to bounce around the room
several times, striking sparks from the bulkheads while all ducked.
cockpit, Leia pointed ahead of them to a spot on the cavern’s floor.
cried. “It’s a tunnel. Quick, in there.”
snarled in protest.
she snarled back. “Do it!”
aimed the Falcon into the hole.
He was just
switching on the forward lights to reveal a long, twisting corridor as Han
came back in.
“What are you
doing?” he asked, still somewhat hoarsely.
“You said to
find a tunnel,” she replied as she got up from his seat.
one’s going down.”
“Better than staying back up there.”
he said, grinning at her. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.” He
dropped into the seat. “Okay, Chewie, I’ll take ‘er.”
seven of the more venturesome TIE fighters had followed them into the
hole. They kept up pursuit, but without shooting. The twists and turns
of the down-spiraling tunnel made that impossible from so far behind.
Still they were gradually closing on the bigger ship.
“This is a
long one,” Han said, peering ahead. “Maybe it’ll take us right through
and out the other side.”
Leia said. She took note of his hoarse voice and his rather disheveled
condition. “What happened back there?”
berserk,” he tersely explained. “Had to turn him off.” He looked around
him at the cockpit, assessing. “The old lady’s taken some damage. Hope
she holds together ‘til we’re outta here.”
One of the TIE
fighters had now come within close range. It fired, the shot bursting
against the Falcon’s stern.
certainly not helping,” Leia said.
“I can’t put
on any more speed,” Han told her. “Not in here. It could kill us.”
won’t?” she asked.
jolted as another bolt struck the Falcon’s rear. Han growled and put on
The rock walls
were a blur as they flashed along the tunnel, the Falcon’s hull all but
scraping the sides on the tight turns. But it worked. Their lead over
the fighters grew.
suddenly, around yet one more bend, they were popping from the passageway
into the open again.
And again it
was a vast space enclosed by floor and ceiling of rock. They had entered
another cavern deeper within the planet.
difference from the cavern above was that its floor wasn’t flat. It had a
number of very large, grey-brown lumps scattered across it.
hills,” Han remarked, examining one as they flew over. “Looks like
they’re covered with dried grass.”
repeated skeptically. “Underground?”
A red laser
bolt flashed past them from behind. The Imperials had emerged from the
tunnel and were screaming after them once more.
“Here we go
again,” said Han, gunning the Falcon forward.
over several of the huge bumps. Then Chewbacca pointed ahead toward one
and bayed a warning.
“I see it,”
Han told him. “It’s moving.”
The lump was
quivering. One end of it heaved up as they flashed overhead. They caught
a glimpse of a sleek, sharp-snouted face, tiny eyes, and curved gnawing
teeth each longer than their ship.
“I thought you
said those things were extinct!” Leia said accusingly.
“What do I
know?” said Han. “Lookout!”
He pulled the
Falcon into a sharp climb as another of the subterranean beasts surged
upward before them, swinging a broad paw with immense digging talons.
Their sharp points swept by right below the ship.
Now all the
lumps ahead were coming alive, shaking, squirming, and lifting to reveal
more shrew-like heads and razor claws.
them all up,” said Han.
“It must be
the noise!” Leia told him.
wake up cranky,” he noted unhappily.
They sailed on
across what had become a heaving sea of brown bodies, long claws and teeth
flashing up to snatch them or swat them down. Han dodged adroitly, taking
the ship close to the ceiling.
TIE fighters, with slower reacting pilots, weren’t as lucky. The snapping
teeth caught and crushed one. A sweeping paw slapped another from the
air. Yet a third successfully dodged by one beast, only to slam into the
high-thrust rear of another. Still, the four remaining ships kept
doggedly to the chase.
Leia. “There’s a wall ahead. The end of the cavern.”
Han, peering toward the sheer face. “And there’s an opening in it.”
long,” she said.
One of the
disturbed beasts was scrambling in a panicked way toward the hole as if to
seek shelter from the alarming noise. It was nearly there.
have to get there first,” Han said.
He aimed the
Falcon into the rapidly dwindling gap between beast and opening. The long
head reached it at the same moment they did, and the ship swept in past
the pointed snout just as it plunged into the hole.
The lead TIE
fighter tried to shoot the gap as well. But the space dwindled too fast
as the beast crawled inward. The small ship was caught, forced upward by
the body, and crushed against the tunnel roof.
the minor explosion against its enormous back, the beast squeezed ahead,
its bulk fully plugging the hole. The last three fighters were forced to
veer away before colliding with the beast. They swooped around the closed
tunnel in frustration for some moments, then turned back.
In the Falcon,
Leia looked back at the beast-corked hole in the rearview screen.
them,” she announced. She looked out the front window. “I just hope
there aren’t more of those creatures ahead.”
at it,” said Han, “you can also hope that this tunnel goes
of the Jedi
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
Kenneth C. Flint
Find his other books at:
See his author Facebook page at:
“...and I was
swinging past the Trigora System on the way back from a routine drop-off
when I found you stalled there, mate,” the furry captain was explaining to
Luke. “Lucky thing for you. A few more seconds and you’d of bought it
voice was quite gruff and gravelly, but the words were still clear enough
He and the
captain sat in the main cabin of the tow ship, a relatively tiny room
considering the square craft’s overall size. Still it managed to be a
cozy, den-like place. Thick rugs patterned in soft greens and browns hid
the stark metal walls. Woven grass mats covered the hard floor. The
young Jedi and his host were seated upon these, a small table between
them. Large, pottery mugs filled with a steaming, fragrant drink sat upon
“I know how
close it was, believe me,” Luke told him. “And I’m really grateful for
your pulling me out.” He paused, then added a bit more awkwardly,
“I...uh...I’m sorry I reacted that way when I first saw you, Captain
Thatch. It’s just that I didn’t expect to meet one of your people way out
“Aye, I am
pretty far from home, I’ll grant you,” Thatch growled in agreement. “And
my line of work’s a bit unusual for my kind.”
own look, for an Ewok, was fully as unusual as his chosen vocation.
Compared with the simple creatures of his home planet, Thatch’s appearance
was quite a dashing one—or, as dashing as a small, chubby, bear-like
being’s could be. He wore a short vest—his only clothing—made from rich
gold brocade. A crimson scarf was tied in a sash about his waist, and a
second formed a band about his head. A large patch of leather covering
the right eye added to the soldier-of-fortune flavor.
his mug and sipped the hot liquid. “Very good bark tea,” he
complimented. “And this room—it’s really nice too. I feel like I’m back
in the hut of an Ewok village.”
brought a bit of home with me,” Thatch said. “Helps keep me in mind of
the quiet old days.”
“Why did you
“Ah, well, I
was always an adventurous lad. A trader fella had a breakdown on our
little moon. Let me help him with repairs. By the time he was ready to
go, we were fast friends. Offered me a job, he did, and I took it. Been
roaming the galaxy ever since.”
Basic very well,” Luke noted.
“When you get
about as much as I do, you’ve got to have lots of languages down pat.
Deal with all kinds I do, in all places. Been very busy with my operation
too. War makes for lots of business you know—ships in distress, hulks
abandoned. Lots of good salvage. So, that’s been my life. Now, what
Luke, taken off guard by the abrupt question.
The captain sat forward and fixed his one, sharp, dark eye enquiringly on
Luke. “Just how did you come to be floating out there alone in that
overpowered space trash?”
“I guess you
can say I was just traveling around.” Luke hedged. “Just visiting.”
“No one ‘just
visits’ nowadays,” Thatch bluntly told him. “Out of Tatooine, judging
from your direction,” he shrewdly surmised. “In a great hurry too.”
traveling fast,” Luke said, trying to sound casual.
Ewok sat back and took a drink of tea while he considered, then said
musingly, “You know, I picked up an Imperial transmission on the way
here. Seems a young fella like you caused some big fracas in Mos Eisely.
They’d like very much to find him again.” He looked at Luke’s cloak.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a lightsaber under there, would you now?”
stiffened. His hand slid under the cloak to grasp the weapon’s hilt.
Thatch soothed. “You’re with a friend here. I’ve no love for the Empire
to start with, and I’d surely not be causing trouble for a man who’s
helped my people.”
“I don’t know
what you mean,” Luke said guardedly.
Thatch prodded. “I haven’t lost touch with the home tribe, and the
Alliance only left our planet a short while ago. Besides, everyone knows
about the young Jedi who helped get rid of the Imperial base there.
Skywalker, is it?”
wary. “Why do you think I’m him?”
“A young man
with a lightsaber, paired with an old blue droid, running from Imperials
and just leaving what was Skywalker’s home planet? That’s a heap of
coincidences, mate. If you’re not him, you surely should be.”
admitted. “I’m Luke Skywalker. But, I’m not running from the Imperials.
Not really. There’s supposed to be a truce.”
heard,” Thatch said skeptically. “But you’re still out on something more
than a pleasure cruise, aren’t you?”
trying to get somewhere. It’s a long way from here—in the Unknown
Regions. That’s why I got that ship.”
Regions!” the Ewok was impressed. “A long way indeed. Some Alliance
of my own.” Luke considered what he’d said, then amended it. “I mean,
it’s something that only involves me... or well, I’m doing it separately
from the New Republic. Anyway, I can’t really talk about it.”
And important too, I’ll wager.”
A door to the
room slid open, and R2-D2 rolled in. It was accompanied by another
droid—a metal ball fitted with a dozen varied appendages—which floated
along in the air.
the captain addressed the ball, “have you finished the diagnostic?”
Cap’n,” it returned in a scratchy drone of voice. “The R2 unit and I went
over all systems. We both agree. The ship is a loss. Damage
Luke said in dismay. “Artoo, did you come up with the same diagnostic?”
It beeped and
twittered an affirming answer.
“No need to
doubt Mack,” Thatch told him. “If it was fixable, he’d be the one who
could do it. Seems you’re without transport.”
“I guess so,”
Luke said in frustration.
Ewok said heartily, “that puts old Captain Thatch in the way of playing
the samaritan. Couldn’t do less than give a ride to you.”
of you,” Luke said graciously, “but I’m supposed to go alone. You could
take me to another settlement though. One with ships.”
about here is back on Tatooine, and they’re looking for you there. The
way you want to go, Imperials just get thicker. Nearly solid they are
between you and that sector of yours. Truce or not, seems to me you’d
want to avoid meeting them. But they know me. They’ll let me right
“I can’t ask
you to get involved,” Luke told him.
mate!” he said brightly. “I’m volunteering. Look, I’ll not press you on
your mission nor interfere in any way. Just let me be of service. It’s
my way of repaying you for the help you gave my people.”
considered. “Well, In any case I don’t have more money to get a new ship,
and my ship’s going to be near worthless for trade-in.” He shrugged in
resignation. “Looks like there’s not much choice.”
“If you think
you can trust an old scoundrel like me,” Thatch said with a grin.
Luke eyed the
little being, considering. Thoughts of the aboriginal Ewok people
battling valiantly against the mechanized might of the Empire went through
his mind. They were followed by an image of one other self-proclaimed
scoundrel who had come to be one of Luke’s most trusted friends—Han Solo.
had pretty good luck doing that,” Luke told Thatch, smiling in return as
he thrust out a hand. “I accept.”
swallowed his hand in a furry paw.
Destroyer still hung in orbit above the sterile surface of the onetime
smuggler’s planet called Pellkadarr.
Below it, the
dead lands with their wide-scattered peaks stretched away to the curving
horizons. Nothing moved there.
Then, on one
distant rim just within sight of the ship, something poked up from the
hole atop a small cone.
It was a grey
metal ball not much larger than a fist, looking quite smooth and
featureless. But as it cautiously lifted farther into the open, a lid
slid up on one side, revealing a lens. This mechanical, unwinking eye
began to slowly swivel about. It panned the scene at ground level, tilted
upward to scan, and then froze as it pointed to the gleaming splinter of
the warship high above.
On the side
opposite the lens eye, a very small antenna telescoped out, and a tiny
light on its tip began frantically to wink.
sensor was sending an electronic message of what it saw down into the hole
behind it, along the vertical shaft and into the shadows far below.
There, well into the concealment of the dark and the intervening layers of
rock, the Millennium Falcon hung, grappled to the sheer wall by its
ship’s cockpit, Han Solo gazed at the remote’s transmitted image of the
Star Destroyer on one of his sensor monitors.
said irritably. “That Imperial clunker’s still hangin’ on out there.”
There was a
responding grunt, and Chewbacca appeared from under the console with both
paws full of tools. He growled a brief message to Han.
“You got it
working, Chewie?” Han said with elation. “Well, okay! But look,
keep at it, will ya? Try and get the port stern shield up too. I’m gonna
go brief the others on what’s going on.”
He went back
into the central lounge. Valladian and Leia were seated on the couch at
the holo-games table, the old man slumping defeatedly. Gowan sat alone on
the lounge’s bunk. The still shut-down Threepio was now propped against a
bulkhead. Senator and princess were conversing in subdued tones, but
stopped and looked to Han as he came in.
“A few systems
are out,” he reported. “Nothing major. We’ve got full life-support and
weapons, and the hyperdrive’s okay. Shields...well, those I’m not too
sure of. But we can fly out of here... if they ever leave.”
“I just cannot
believe that Tharkus would do something so monstrous,” Valladian said,
clearly still in shock.
desperate to stop the peace talks,” said Leia.
agreed. “That’s what I figure too. It explains all the firepower. He
was planning to make sure he got rid of all the witnesses so there
wouldn’t be anyone left to finger him.”
“Yes, but he
missed me,” said Valladian. He drew himself up and a keen edge of
determination came into his voice. “And when I get back, I’ll raise an
outcry against him. He’ll be discredited, imprisoned and destroyed. And
his precious military will only lose more power.” He paused, now puzzled.
“But, it’s strange. He’s usually a clever man. I don’t understand how he
believed he could gain by this.”
“Well, what I
want to know is how he found out where we were,” said Leia. She looked to
Han. “Was there a traitor in the base?”
He shook his
head. “Nobody there knew. Just me. You know I didn’t tell anyone ‘til
side are you on, mercenary?” Gowan said accusingly.
Gowan,” Leia told him sharply. “Han would never do that—for all his
Han said dryly. “I’m touched.”
him, addressing Valladian. “Senator, what about your side?”
information on the meeting was kept absolutely secret from everyone
outside our group—particularly the military,” he said. “Only I knew this
location. And, like Captain Solo, I kept it secret until we left.”
passed word to this Tharkus after we left,” said Han. “Somebody
who came along on this peace mission was a traitor.”
“If it was one
of my comrades, then he must have known he might be committing suicide,”
Valladian said. “I find that hard to believe. I knew them all too well.”
leaves one of us,” said Han.
All of their
eyes went at the same time to the switched-off droid.
it’s Threepio?” said Leia.
he returned. “I mean, he went crazy on me. He said we should all die.
And he called everyone in the Alliance scum. That seems like pretty fair
evidence to me.”
“But, he’s our
friend,” she argued. “He’s been loyal to our family for years.”
“He’s a droid,
Leia,” Han pointed out. “And the Threepio I’ve seen lately sure isn’t the
one we know. He’s been messed with by the Empire somehow, I’ll bet!”
He went to the
intercom panel and pressed a call button.
“What are you
doing?” she asked.
to find out,” he answered.
There was a
growl from the speaker as Chewbacca responded from the cockpit.
Han. “Get on back here. And bring your tools. Got a little exploratory
surgery I want you to do.”
head rested alone atop the work table of the lounge’s technical station.
Around it on the floor were scattered the rest of his disassembled parts.
busily setting up a small machine and running leads from it to the mass of
wires protruding from the droid’s neck. Han, Leia and the others watched
the process, fascinated.
gets the analyzer hooked up, he can probe around inside that metal skull,”
Han explained. “Maybe we can figure out just what’s goin’ on in there.”
hard to believe that he was working for the Empire,” Leia said
Han picked a
tiny metal disk up from the table. “Yeah? Well we’d better be glad
Chewie found this transmitter they stashed in Threepio’s guts. At least
he won’t be passing on any more information to them.”
He dropped the
sphere to the deck and thoroughly ground it to dust with a foot.
finished making the last connection to the droid’s neck. He switched on
the machine. It hummed and chattered. The lights in Threepio’s eyes
flickered, then came full on.
So did his
beast,” the head ranted. “What are you doing? Take your hairy paws off
of me. And the rest of you—vile, nasty, insensitive humans. All of you
loose a wire. The voice fell silent again.
Chewie,” said Han. “Why don’t you start feeling around inside there? Try
to access his memory circuits.”
took up a long and slender instrument. He inserted it through the neck
and far up into the head, then began to probe around like a dentist
searching for a hidden cavity.
instrument touched some sensitive point, an unintelligible yammer of
sounds began to pour from the fixed slot of the droid’s mouth. Chewie
finessed the point around slightly. The sounds gradually changed to
understandable words, but still in meaningless jumbles. Then, abruptly,
there came a clear passage:
down the main reactor. We’re doomed! They’ll be no escape for the
Princess this time.”
it there!” Leia ordered.
mission?” the voice went on. “What plans! No, I’m not going in there.”
“He must be
talking about the time Darth Vader captured me,” Leia said to Han. “When
I first met you.”
Han. “Then you got it Chewie. Keep at it. Try to move him ahead.”
shifted his probe infinitesimally through the complex circuits. As he
did, he hopped along the droid’s memories like a needle skipping across
the grooves of a recording, picking up disjointed snatches of sentences:
Greetings… We seem to be made to suffer... Shutting up, Sir... Let the
Wookiee win... No, shut them all down!... R2 has been known to make
mistakes from time to time...”
said Han. “I think you’re moving closer to the present now. Keep it up.”
widely accepted. But perhaps if it were, even being a cyborg might be
easier to bear...” the voice rattled on. “Don’t get technical with me,
you overgrown adding machine!... Why can’t the Wookiees celebrate Life Day
without Orga-Root?... Oh no! I’ve been shot! ...Of course I’ve looked
better... Artoo, you’re playing the wrong message... Disintegrated?...
Oooh, my eye!... But, Master Luke, what magic? ...this is no time for
definitely moving toward more recent time,” Leia said. “Start listening
“I found that
spectacle utterly appalling... Oh my word! We’re doomed!... abandoned
here like cast-off scrap...” the head said in a disgruntled tone, “...such
a menial lot... fetching cheap Forgan ale for Master Solo... playing the
slave... If I had my own way...” The tone suddenly altered to one of
alarm. “Oh dear... mistake... wrong droid!”
Han. “You’re right up to it. Sounds like he was grabbed. Must’ve
happened when he went off alone at Eskendren City. Chewie,” he looked to
the Wookiee, “go on. Try for more. But real slow now. Get all you can.”
yet more painstakingly. Words flowed again: “...I can’t tell you that...
such a treacherous act? I won’t... betray my companions... oh... oh!
This last came
out in a long, pain filled scream. Then the voice abruptly cut off.
“Must be where
the bastards did...whatever it was to him,” said Han grimly.
Leia said in sorrow. “He really must have suffered.”
“He’s just a
machine,” Han reminded her. “Chewie, go past that. Try to get into what
dug around some more with seeming difficulty. At last a few more
fragments were forced out:
coordinates back...” the voice said, very mechanically now, “Tharkus...
kill senators... destroy peace conference... find... the... hea...ea...hea...”
what?” said Leia
the probe,” said Han. “Push harder, Chewie. We’ve got to know more.”
down. The head sputtered and crackled as if circuits were shorting. The
eyes flickered wildly. Then a last phrase was forced haltingly out:
There was a
loud ‘pop’ and a blue-white tendril of light flashed up the probe to
sizzle against Chewie’s hand. The Wookiee bayed in pain and dropped the
instrument. A wisp of smoke curled up from the fur of his palm.
Chewie?” Han asked as the burned creature shook his injured member.
snorted and snarled out a fairly long reply.
it, then,” Han translated for the rest. “Chewie says that any more memory
access is being blocked. Real fancy reprogramming technique they used on
Chewie erase it?” asked Leia. “Change Threepio back?”
irreversible,” added Han. “Trying to change him would wipe his mind
“So am I,” she
said sorrowfully. Then she steeled herself. “But we can’t think about
that now. There’s something more vital.”
“I guess so,”
said Han. “What did that mean, ‘find the heart of the Jedi’?”
something about the Force not being a factor much longer,” recalled Leia.
“If that were
true, then stopping the peace process would make sense,” Valladian put
in. “Should Tharkus become able to overcome the threat of the Force, he
would gain all the support he’d need.”
only the Jedi who really know how to use the Force,” said Han, “so to
destroy its threat, I guess he’d have to destroy them too.”
“But they only
know of one Jedi,” said Leia with growing alarm. “That would mean that
locked with Solo’s. They said the word together: “Luke!”
Vaskor marched crossed the Star Destroyer’s bridge to where Tharkus and
Kantos stood and saluted smartly.
I have the latest reports,” he said. “There still has been no further
contact with the Millennium Falcon.”
the fighters which followed it deeper?” Tharkus asked. “Have you
discovered why they broke off pursuit?”
the two pilots who survived quite closely, Sir. They swore to me that
they only broke off after they saw the rebel ship and one of our own
smashed by an immense beast. They’re certain it couldn’t have survived.
From what they described down there, I believe it. Those two barely
escaped from the place with their own lives.”
Tharkus acceded. “We will assume that the Falcon has been destroyed. We
have no more time to spend here. Captain, order the search parties
recalled. Bring all our forces back aboard. Prepare to get underway
within the hour.”
Soon after his
orders were passed, the last of the TIE fighters were streaking up from
the planet and sailing into the big warship’s landing bay.
and Leia watched the withdrawal process on the remote sensor’s monitor.
definitely pulling in her claws,” Han judged. “I’d say he’s finally
getting’ ready to go.” He looked around and down. “Chewie?”
hairy form was stretched on the cockpit deck, head shoved far under a
console. From its depths a frustrated “whoof!” came back to him.
“Still no go
on that port shield, huh?” said Han. “Well, it’ll have to be good
enough. Go make a last check on the engines, then come help me get the
clambered forth, tossed his tools in the box, and headed back into the
ship. Han began a run-through on the cockpit instruments. Leia continued
to watch the Star Destroyer on the screen.
called to him after a short while, “I think they’re leaving.”
too. The last TIE fighters had disappeared inside the big ship. A blue
light was beginning to glow within its engine cones. As they watched, the
glow grew brighter, and the man-of-war began slowly to move, turning away
from the planet, heading into space.
goes,” he said with relief. “Now we’ll just wait ‘til we’re sure she’s
jumped to light, so there’s no chance of them detecting us. Then we’re
outta here ourselves.” He went back to work checking the instruments,
tossing to Leia: “Warn our friends back there that we’re about ready to
fly, willya, Sweetheart?”
He looked up
to her in puzzlement. “What for?”
calling me ‘Princess.’”
yeah... sorry,” he said in mock confusion. “I forgot.”
“Just keep on
forgetting,” she told him with a smile. She turned toward the cockpit
door, then paused to look back.
“If they ask,
where are we going?”
“To find Luke
before that Tharkus does,” he said.
“How are we
going to do that?” she asked. “He didn’t file a flight plan before he
left base. No one knows where he was going. He could be anywhere in the
within range of his X-wing,” Han amended. “Hey, don’t worry. I’ve still
got contacts all over out there. I’ll start contacting them once we’re in
the clear. We’ll get some word on Luke, sooner or later.”
“I hope it’s
sooner,” she said gravely.
Luke stood on
an overhead catwalk and watched a dozen spheroid service droids rummaging
in the depths below. He was alone there, having left R2-D2 plugged into a
power jack to recharge his energy cell.
The vast main
bay of the square salvage ship was awash with bright lights now as Captain
Thatch’s robotic crew picked painstakingly through a massive pile of junk.
Around it were
other loads of salvage, crowding the floor of the bay. The stuff was of
all types and qualities, from Luke’s own largely intact craft, to
more-or-less identifiable pieces of discarded goods and equipment, to
jumbled masses of what seemed purest trash.
Ewok captain waddled out onto the catwalk to join Luke and looked down
from beside him.
interesting, mate?” he growled. “Lots of folks think of me as just a
rubbish collector. Wrinkle up their varied sorts of proboscises over the
stinking job. A few see the high adventure in it.”
adventure?” Luke repeated, amused.
Wandering free through the Galaxy, searching for treasures. Always
something new. Always lots of surprises. It’s a free life too, mate. I
owe nothing to no one.”
all alone on this big ship?”
“Except for my
trusty crew there,” he said, nodding to the droids below. “Couldn’t do
“What are they
doing now?” Luke asked, looked back down to them.
gleaners. Programmed them for the scavenging myself. They go through
everything. Sorting the good from the garbage—that’s their lot. They’re
just now checking over the load I picked up right before I salvaged you.”
looks like all garbage to me,” Luke remarked.
“Ah, not so,
mate,” Thatch said with gusto. “Even in the worst of it, you’d be amazed
what you can find. Why, once in the most rotted heap of swill, I found
myself a giant Toscan pearl. But it’s deceiving both ways too. What have
looked some of the best pieces on the outside have turned out to be all
fake or rotten within. A tricky business, knowing what’s the real thing.”
“But you do
Thatch offered, “I’ll show you a bit of my gleanings. You be the judge.”
He led the way
off the catwalk.
there’s enough business out there for a thousand the likes of me,” he
explained as they walked.
cast off in the trillions of tons from nearly all civilized worlds, and I
use ‘civilized’ loosely. Space is littered with their waste. I’ve seen
planets with rings of the stuff. I’ve seen places surrounded by trash
envelopes so thick it was blocking their sunlight. There’re even some
where the jettisoned junk’s mass is greater than the planet’s—I swear to
They moved off
the catwalk and into a broad corridor.
“You can see
that I surely can’t take it all,” he continued. “I’m selective. That’s
the key.” He touched his muzzle. “Got a keen noise to sniff out where
the value might be.”
They came out
of the corridor into another large room. It was lined all about with
shelves, cupboards, racks, and bins filled with all kinds of objects,
sorted by type. It made a fascinating and impressive array. A floating
curiosity shop on a massive scale.
said Thatch with a note of pride. “This here is part of my salvaging.”
He pointed around at various spots. “Furniture there. Machine parts
beyond. Scrap metals. Electronics. Plastics. Engines. Gadgets and
gizmos. You name it.”
collected all this in your traveling?” Luke said in open awe.
collected all this in a year, mate. The abandoned wealth of a
galaxy. All mine.”
along the room, glancing at the myriad of wonderful things. He stopped at
one bin full of colorful, complex objects.
he asked, peering in.
the Ewok. “Good ones too. Amazing what gets tossed away by some bored
through the pile of playthings, picking up a humanoid baby doll. It
opened its eyes to look at him as he touched it, wriggled in his hands,
and softly cooed as if alive.
Luke mused, looking from it to the wonders all around, “when I see this,
it makes me think about how much I’ve missed.”
experiencing life like you have. For all I’ve done, I really haven’t seen
much of things. Regular things, I mean. Maybe that’s my problem.
I lived on a farm in probably one of the most isolated spots in the
universe. From there, I went right off to war. These past few years I’ve
seen mostly the inside of cockpits and bases hidden by ruins, ice or
trees. Not much of a life, really.”
He put down
the doll and picked up a toy Stormtrooper of accurate detail and fully
poseable arms and legs, complete with blaster rifle.
“We all make
sacrifices for what we want to do,” the Ewok sagely pointed out. “Why, I
live in a rubbish bin, don’t I?”
“But you have
a chance to decide for yourself if you want to keep living that life,”
Luke told him. “Can you understand what I mean? When I chose to become a
Jedi, that life became all there was for me. And even now, when I’ve
started wondering whether that choice was the right one, I feel like I’ve
given up my freedom to the Force.”
the toy trooper. Its blaster made a realistic firing sound and the muzzle
flared with red light. It was pointed right at him.
Luke said sharply, casting the war toy back into its bin. “Sometimes I
wish I’d never heard that word.”
in it myself,” said the Ewok bluntly. “Nothing controls me or tells me
what to do.”
Luke smiled at
that. “Now you sound like a friend of mine. He’s kind of a rogue too.
He used to decry the Force too. Real independent.” The smile faded.
“He was, anyway,” he went on more gravely. “He got caught up in all of
this just like me...”
force that can control you unless you let it,” the Ewok said stubbornly.
“You said you made the choice. Well then, you can unmake it. You
can take charge again. You can cut yourself loose.”
“I can’t do
that,” Luke replied with some frustration. “How can I? It seems sometimes
like the whole galaxy needs me.” He shook his head. “Talk about
responsibility! The Force is in me, like it or not. Through me it saved
my friends, saved the Rebellion, saved your planet, defeated the
“That may be,
but it was some great load to be put upon one young lad,” Thatch agreed.
“Anyways, that doesn’t matter now,” he reasoned. “You said yourself that
the war’s ending. Doesn’t that set you free? You can do what you want.
You could fly off with me.”
said Luke, eying the Ewok, clearly intrigued.
could! Seems to me you’ve done enough for everyone else. Think of
yourself for a change. I wouldn’t mind a partner. It does get lonely out
here at times. Come with me adventuring through the stars and let the
rest go hang.”
Thatch,” Luke told him honestly. Then he sighed. “Still, I don’t think I
can just ignore the Force. I’ve got to find a way to live with it before
I can do anything else. That’s why I’ve...”
abruptly there, clearly realizing he was about to reveal too much.
lad?” Thatch inquired.
“Why I’ve got
to think about it some more,” Luke finished vaguely. “But, thanks for the
open, mate,” said the Ewok. He consulted a watch-like device strapped
about one furry wrist. “Say, look here, I’ve got to get topside and make
the next course adjustment.”
“I imagine it
will be a long time til we reach the edge of the Unknown Regions.”
normal since we’re wanting to avoid as much Imperial contact as possible.
This course will take us through their thinnest point.”
“Do you want
me to come with you?”
“Oh, no need.
Look here, if you’re after something to do while I’m gone, go on back
there.” He gestured toward the far end of the big store room. “I’ve lots
of other goods that might interest you. Look around. There’s ornaments,
art, rugs and tapestries… clothing too.”
Luke’s rather worn and dusty desert garb over critically.
your own kit’s a bit ratty,” he frankly observed. “Feel free to look and
take whatever you like. See you soon.”
He turned and
trundled off, back into the corridor.
called after him. Then he turned and started across the room.
around him as he walked. It was a bit eerie now, alone in the half-lit
room, surrounded by the looming collections of things. His footsteps
echoed hollowly on the metal floor.
There was a
strong presence here, as if the auras of age and people’s lives
surrounding all these objects were concentrated, hanging dense in the
atmosphere. The blended essence of countless dreams, desires,
expectations, disappointments, and disasters yet lingering from past
owners wafted from the things along with the scents of cleaning solvents
“Seems like I
keep finding myself amongst the wreckage of past lives,” he said as if
speaking to someone. Then he laughed at himself. “Oh, I forgot. Bad
habit.” He looked around again, then added, “But I wish I’d brought you
along for company this time, Artoo.”
He peered into
a bin to find it full of battered weapons of all kinds. Another one held
stacks of ornamental stones. Most of these were broken pieces of past
architectural adornment—decorations carved as geometric shapes, abstract
designs, elaborate plants, or grotesque beasts.
bin he came into an area taken up by clothing. Shelves crammed with
footwear for all manner of beings reached toward the roof. Rack after
rack of garments stretched for scores of yards.
He moved along
aisles between the racks, examining the clothes. There were styles from
modest to flamboyant, sizes from monstrous to minute, shapes from simple
to mind-bogglingly complex. He felt some materials that were of coarse
texture and primitive weave and others of technological creation so fine
they were more like misty air.
were separated by general body type. After some wandering he came into
the section that looked to be made for humanoids. A very large number of
these were cast-off Imperial garb.
surprise,” murmured Luke, looking along the lines of identical dark
uniforms. There were also a good many stormtrooper suits of white armor
in good repair—save for the scorch marks and neat burn-holes from lasers
here-and-there, and even a few ultra-rare clone trooper pieces.
He moved on to
a rack of more varied, civilian-looking clothes. He glanced down at his
own battered garb, shrugged, and began browsing through the individual
He paused at a
simple, black outfit—tunic, jacket, and pants much like those he’d worn
before—his chosen garb as a new Jedi. Then another garment farther along
caught his eye. He pulled it out. It was a coat of rich, velvet-like
cloth in a deep green, splendidly decked out with embroidery in silver
about collar and cuffs.
the material thoughtfully. He gave a little smile. “Well, why not?” he
said and began to pull off the worn cloak he wore.
paused. His eyes had fallen on something else and fixed there.
Through a gap
in the hanging clothing, he’d glimpsed a faint yellow light.
moved toward it. He reached the last rack of clothes along the wall.
Pushing aside some garments, he found himself facing a small door, the
lighted button of a locking mechanism at its center.
it. He put a hand out toward the lock, but hesitated. Then, with
conviction, he said: “Well, he did tell me to look around.”
He pushed the
button. The light changed from yellow to red. With a faint “click” the
door unlocked, swinging open toward him.
revealed a dazzling treasure trove.
overflowing chests of gleaming coins and scintillating jewels. Precious
metals cast into statues, jewelry, and plain ingots were packed onto
shelves. A golden image of a rampant lion-like beast was dominant, rising
seven feet in the middle of the floor.
As Luke stood
staring dumbstruck by this sight, a gruff voice spoke from beside him:
“I told you it
was amazing what you could find.”
from his surprise, Luke turned to look down at the Ewok, who was gazing on
his gleaming collection with a gloating eye.
“You got all
of this by scavenging?” Luke asked.
and smiled. “That’s why they call me ‘Lucky.’”
past Luke and swung the door closed on the enticing view.
“Come on,” he
urged the young Jedi. “Let’s get some grub. We’ll be reaching Imperial
Space soon. Best we talk a bit about just what we’re going to do.”
strode out of the Mos Eisley Cantina and sauntered carelessly across the
street to where Leia and Gowan stood waiting for him. Leia had changed to
a simple garb of nondescript jacket and pants for their venture here, and
her hair was back in its practical braids.
“Just like old
times,” Han said in a pleased way. “Can never forget what this place is
like, even without Jabba in charge and the jawas gettin’ all uppity.
Almost forgot what a good ale was like, though.” He used a sleeve to wipe
a bit of residual foam from a corner of his mouth.
you wanted to leave,” Leia said dryly.
Anyway, I checked out that Mos Eisley police report. We picked up on
somebody with a lightsaber gettin’ into a fight in the cantina. From what
the guys inside told me, it must have been Luke who was here.”
“Do you trust
them?” asked Leia.
old buddies of mine,” he replied. “They wouldn’t lie to me.”
friends?” Gowan said with open sarcasm. “Most trustworthy, I’m sure.”
Princeling,” Han told him tightly, stepping forward, “I’m getting very
tired of you.”
Gowan met his
eye boldly, drawing himself up, and the two men faced off. They attracted
the attention of a patrol of stormtroopers passing by.
off,” Leia hissed, moving between them. “You’ve got an audience.” She
smiled toward the troopers in her most innocent way.
around to them, then relaxed and grinned too, throwing them a friendly
wave. “Try to look casual,” he murmured to Gowan. “Or at least, not
slightly, almost cracking a smile as he also waved. The troopers
exchanged looks and shrugs, then went on.
“Ok! They let
us alone,” said Leia.
thought we were village idiots,” said Han. “Now, listen: the description I
got of this mean lightsaber-slinger matched our boy exactly. On top of
that, he was seen taking off with a blue-and-white R2 unit. If that
“It was Luke,”
Leia said with assurance. She looked around her searchingly. “He was
here. I can feel him—just faintly.”
“Not a bad
talent you got there,” said Han. “It might come in real handy. Can you
feel anything more about him? Like, where he went from here?”
concentrated hard, slowly panning the area with her eyes.
very vague,” she said. “I could be wrong...”
better than nothing,” Han said. “What do you got?”
“I think he
might have gone down there,” she pointed to a street leading away.
“There’s a lingering sense of urgency about his aura, like he was after
Han said. “Let’s go see.”
“Must we all
go?” Gowan said to them in a most pained manner.
The other two
looked to him.
“Got a problem
nosing around here?” Han asked. “A little scared maybe?”
“Not at all,”
Gowan blustered. “It’s just that... well, this is your milieu.
These people are your kind.” He cast a supercilious glance toward a
tattered drunk passed out in the street before the saloon. “You fit right
in. The Princess and I.... well, we’d stand out. It could be
dangerous—for her. I should take her back to safety. Besides,” he looked
about at the filthy street and rather shabby pedestrians and wrinkled his
nose in disgust, “there is a most unpleasant odor about this place.”
“Now, wait a
minute,” Leia said hotly. “This is my brother we’re talking about.
There’s no danger that is going to stop me from looking for him. You can
go back to the ship if you want to. Tell the others what we’re doing.
But I’m going on with Han.”
she determinedly stalked off toward the side street.
Han gave Gowan
a big smile. “Don’t get lost, Prince,” he tossed back to the man as he
turned and followed after her.
tellin’ him, partner,” he said to Leia as he fell in beside her.
she snapped back. “We’ve got more important things to worry about. And,
don’t talk to me,” she added as they came into the side street. “Let me
looking around her again, head lifted, tense, like a bloodhound sniffing a
scent. Then she nodded and pointed ahead.
‘definitely this way,’” Han pointed out. “Now what?”
reached a dead end.
fronts of cracked stucco-faced buildings rose solidly on either side. A
high wall pierced by a single small gate rose to block the way ahead.
looking around her once more. But this time she appeared to be at a loss.
“I can’t feel
anything clearly enough anymore,” she said. “I think he came here, but my
sense of him just vanishes at this point.” She looked to Solo, as if to
say, “What do we do?”
look at what we know. You said you think he was after something.
Something he was pretty hot to get. I know he had gotten a hold of some
money. He took some risk winning it in a card game, so he must’ve needed
it pretty bad. I’d say that what he was after was to buy something.
Something fairly big.”
around again. “Here? Where?”
around too. His eye went up to the symbols above the gate, and his
expression lit. “I know this place. My bet is he came here!”
He moved to it
and boldly knocked on the gate. There was a short wait, a shuffling from
beyond the portal, and then it was opened by a jawa.
creature looked them carefully up and down, then it jabbered something to
“We want to
see Wioslea,” Han told it. “Tell him it’s Han Solo.”
nodded and vanished inside for a brief time. When it returned, it swung
the door wide and stepped back to let them in. It led them down a hallway
through a building and out again into a large, wire-fenced compound filled
with used space ships.
insect-like Vuvrian smiled as he shuffled toward them, blinking its dozen
eyes and waving its long tentacles about.
Solo,” Vithas said. “So it is really you. A very long time since I saw
you last. But, I had heard that you were dead.”
yet,” Han assured.
“What can I do
for you? A ship, perhaps?” He waved a foreleg around at the scattered
craft. “That old vessel of yours must need replacement by now.”
here to buy anything, Wioslea,” Han said. “We’re here after information.”
being said with clear disappointment. “No dealing then? No money?”
looking for a fairly young guy. Human, white-skinned and blond. He had
an R2 unit with blue markings with him. He might’ve come here to get a
ship from you.”
“Yes, that he
did,” Wioslea admitted. “An upgraded YT-1760. Very nice ship. Very
nice indeed. He paid cash down for it too, though...” a puzzled tone came
into his voice, “...not as much as I’d wished. In fact,” he went on in
deepening puzzlement, “I can’t even believe I sold it at that price. Me,
the hardest dealer in Mos Eisley.” The puzzlement gave way to
aggravation. “He gave me a mere pittance and I let him just fly away.
Promised he’d make good the rest. And I trusted him on that as well. I
must’ve been mad!”
like Luke all right,” Han said with amusement.
be concerned about that,” Leia assured the creature. “If he promised you,
then the balance will be made good... and then some.”
some,” Wioslea repeated, rubbing his hands together greedily. “And
exactly how much more?”
Han tersely. “But first you gotta tell us what you know. We have to find
“I believe I
already have told you everything,” the Vuvrian said. “He came. He paid
money. He flew away. I learned nothing about him.”
find out where he was going?” asked Leia.
tell me anything whatsoever,” he answered definitely. “I did feel that he
was in somewhat of a rush. He had to wait a short time while we prepped
the ship, and seemed quite anxious about it.” He shrugged his narrow
shoulders. “That’s all.”
Han in frustration. He looked to Leia. “You can’t pick up any
impressions here of what Luke was going to do, can you? Anything at all?”
concentrated hard for some moments, then shook her head. “Nothing.” She
waved around at the scores of Jawas bustling around in their work on the
ships. “There’s too much activity.”
Wioslea again. “He didn’t give you any hints, drop any careless line that
might give you an idea of his destination? You’re sure there wasn’t
anything else at all?”
considered. “No. No... nothing. Oh...wait! There was one
thing. A strange incident. Likely not connected to your friend at all.
anyway,” Leia urged.
after his ship left, we found a jawa’s body behind a pile of barrels. No
sign of how he died. But he was quite old, and the little creatures are
dying all the time.” He paused, then added regretfully. “It was too
bad. He was one of my best mechanics. Unfortunately he was quite tough,
Han and Leia
exchanged a raised-eyebrows glance at this last comment, but let it pass
help us any,” said Han. “There must be something else.”
hard as he racked his brain for other possibilities. Then his expression
cleared as something new occurred to him.
what about his own ship?”
the other repeated, clearly not comprehending.
could be something on it that would help us.” Han looked around. “Where
“He had no
ship,” the Vuvrian said.
“What do you
mean?” asked Leia. “He flew to Tatooine in a small fighter.”
Han. “It must’ve been worth something. Didn’t he trade it in?”
“As I told
you,” explained Vithas, “he gave me cash down. That was it.”
“He didn’t say
anything about his own ship?” asked Leia.
“As I’ve said
several times,” the being responded with thinning patience, “he said
nothing to me.”
“How did he
get to Mos Eisley?” asked Han.
shrugged again. “Who knows? From his desert clothes and the amount of
dust on both him and his droid, I suppose I must have thought he had come
in from the desert. On foot.”
He and Leia
exchanged a meaningful look.
“You know what
that might mean,” he said to her.
X-Wing hunting,” she excitedly replied.
himself slowly, gingerly, gratefully down into the warm bath.
been a long time for one of these,” he commented.
an enthusiastic agreement.
noticed, Artoo?” Luke translated. “Thanks. Well, I’ll get you one too.
I’m surprised you still work with all the grit in your innards. I’ll ask
Thatch if I can give you a nice solvent bath.”
The two were
in a rather plush bathing room of the plain looking salvage scow. It
seemed obvious that the Ewok captain had scavenged its parts from his best
pickings. The fixtures were of gold, the walls and floor sheathed in
richly embossed ceramic tiles, the massive tub formed from real marble.
The parts—gleaned from various places—didn’t match especially well, but
altogether still made a sumptuous impression.
himself back in the tub and sank beneath the water with a sigh of
He realized it
was the first time he hadn’t been on the move in days. And, much as he
hated to admit it, there were times when he wished it could always be like
this: quiet, clean, comfortable, and with a chance to think about things.
his Ewok savior. There was no doubt that Captain Thatch did pretty well
for a junkman. He cruised through the galaxy, at peace with everybody.
He saw things and places. Luke could bet he met all kinds of interesting
beings too—and without always having to wonder if they were going to kill
upright, took up a large sponge from the side of the tub, and began to
wash himself off. As he did, he continued his musings about the captain.
really never met anybody like Thatch before. That is, anybody not all
wrapped up in their own big problems. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had been
always worried about the farm. Always having to face the hard work.
Always thinking about the next season. There hadn’t been time for
anything else. And almost everybody Luke had met since leaving them had
been caught up in the war.
sponging off his front and looked to the silently waiting droid.
would you get my back for me?” he asked.
obediently rolled forward to the edge of the tub. A small hatch in its
midsection popped open and a rod with a claw end telescoped out. The claw
took hold of the long handle of a brush sitting on the tub’s side. It
moved the brush forward to contact Luke’s back.
around to get into the best position, giving directions as he did.
A little higher. Left. Down. Ah! Right there!”
began scrubbing in a vigorous up-and-down motion.
Not so rough, Artoo,” Luke cautioned. “I don’t want the skin off. And
there are a few tender spots back there.”
Jedi’s back was indeed much marked with bruises and lacerations from his
recent scrapes. The droid reduced the pressure of its brushing and
avoided the spots too.
said. “Ah... very good.”
relaxed further and continued with his thoughts, their nature becoming
ever more introspective under the soothing effects of warm water and
He had almost
forgotten there was anything else but the war. Still, he knew there had
to be a lot of places in the galaxy that didn’t even know about it, and
more that didn’t care.
Well, he told
himself in a dreamy way, it looked like soon nobody’d have to care
anymore. Once the Empire had surrendered, it would all be over, wouldn’t
it? The Emperor was dead. The Death Stars were destroyed. The New
Republic negotiators would see that freedom was restored to the galaxy.
There wouldn’t be much need for a Jedi. It would be for Leia and the
other diplomats to decide what the future would be and how they’d all get
along. They could work out those problems themselves just fine... and
scrubbing finished, Artoo put down the brush and moved back.
said Luke. “That was great.” He stretched himself out again in the bath,
luxuriating in its waters. He sighed contentedly. “Maybe I just will
take Thatch’s offer once all this is finished. Maybe I’ll just go off
droid made a worried sound at that.
wouldn’t leave you, Artoo,” Luke assured him. “I’d take you along.”
It beeped and
tweeted some more.
“Of course I
haven’t forgotten Leia and Han. But I’m sure they’d understand. I’ve
just got to...”
A low whistle
from an intercom on the room’s wall interrupted him. The gruff voice of
Thatch followed it from the speaker.
“Don’t mean to
be interrupting you, mate, but when you’re through there, would you mind
coming to my bridge? We’ll be entering an Imperial zone shortly.”
“Be up in a
few minutes,” Luke promised.
The young man
climbed at once from the bathtub. Artoo moved to pull a plush towel from
a rack with its claw and hand it to him.
He toweled off
quickly and moved to a dressing table. Two piles of clothes lay there—a
set of new ones neatly laid out, and a pile of his old ones.
He looked at
the worn and dusty garments he had worn since Tatooine. He glanced at the
others which he had picked from Thatch’s stores.
He picked up a
pair of trousers from the new pile. “I’ll wear these,” he announced.
“Artoo, you can throw away those others.”
It was only a
few moments later that he was stepping onto the Entrepreneur’s
bridge, the little droid in tow.
control room was a small one. From a single, central chair, the captain
could command all the ship’s functions on banks of surrounding instrument
swiveled the chair around toward Luke as the young man came in. His
single eye widened in surprise and his furry ears twitched at what he saw.
“Ah, a new
Luke,” he said with pleasure. “Very good, mate!”
For Luke was
now a quite flamboyant sight, resplendent in his chosen garb. Knee-high
black leather boots fit over snugly fitting white pants with gold stripes
up the sides. He wore a soft, full tunic of a silk-like silver cloth on
top, and over it the green velvet jacket with the gold brocade.
“Is it okay?”
Luke asked, a bit uncertainly. “I’ve never worn anything this... uh...
“Fits like you
were born to it,” the other assured. “Is it comfortable?”
Luke, fingering the shirt’s cloth. “Nothing’s ever felt this good.”
all that matters.” The Ewok turned back to the controls, signing Luke to
him. “Come here. Take a look.”
up beside him and looked at a large forward monitor. It showed a section
of space patterned with stars.
Space,” Thatch told him. “Last outposts of the Empire are not far ahead.
But we’ll give them a wide berth. And beyond that, the Unknown Regions.”
think we’ll have trouble getting through?”
“The way I’m
going? Why, the chances of our even seeing an Imperial ship are...”
said Luke suddenly, pointing to another monitor. It showed a sharp-angled
splinter of light sliding through space, and getting larger.
viewscreen,” said Thatch. “Someone’s coming up on our stern.”
craft drew closer rapidly. Its distinctively slab-shaped hull and
many-faceted bow were soon in clear view.
light cruiser,” said Luke grimly.
And, as if to
confirm, an officious voice crackled sharply from their comm speaker:
unidentified ship. Stand to and prepare to be boarded!”
vessel was of a much smaller class than a Star Destroyer, but it was still
well equipped with heavy turbolaser batteries, somewhat larger than
Thatch’s ship, and definitely more formidable in look.
“I thought you
said they wouldn’t be bothering us here,” said Luke.
the Ewok said with clear dismay. “I was sure they wouldn’t. Never
had sight of a warship in this area before.”
“Can we outrun
them?” Luke asked.
his furry head. “The Carrack-class is as spry as one of your X-wings,
especially one as modified as that is.”
How about weapons?”
Well, we’ve a few remote laser cannon batteries. Small things, though.
Nowhere near the heavy armaments they’ve got. Doubt our shots would even
pierce their armored hide.”
leave us many options,” Luke said with concern.
“Except to do
nothing,” said Thatch. “Relax, mate. This is likely a routine check by a
sector patrol. We just let them board us, look around, and let us go.
I’ve been through it before.”
But won’t they wonder about me?”
“What, my new
partner?” said Thatch. “Why should they? Though, you’d better stash
that.” He pointed to the lightsaber on Luke’s belt. “A bit too much
of a giveaway that is.” He eyed Artoo. “Best get the droid out of sight
as well. You’re too well known together.”
pushed his in-ship comm unit button. “Mack,” he called into the speaker,
“get yourself up here right away.”
In moments the
round, metal droid was floating onto the little bridge.
weapon there to him,” Thatch told Luke. “He can hide it.”
The young Jedi
detached his lightsaber from the belt. “No. I’ve got a place already.
droid rolled obediently to him. He popped open a small access panel on
its domed head and slipped the weapon into the storage compartment
then, Mack,” Thatch said briskly, “take our little mate off and hide him
somewhere. Then take Skywalker’s little ship and shove the whole bloody
thing beneath a heap of salvage. Make it a nice, ripe pile too. Lots of
slime and rot, and a good, strong smell.” He looked to Luke and smiled.
“That’ll surely keep the nosy well away.” To his droid he added, “Get on
about it. And be quick. They’ll be on us in minutes.”
Captain,” the droid’s mechanical voice crackled in reply.
it lead R2-D2 away. He felt a little anxious about his friend.
right,” Thatch told him assuringly. “He’ll be safe.” He grinned. “Trust
words seemed to convince Luke, who smiled in return.
Imperial voice sounded from their inter-ship comm speaker again:
“Unidentified ship, have you copied our last transmission? We will send
it only once more. This is an Imperial Patrol Ship. Prepare to be
boarded. If we do not register your compliance to our order immediately,
we will open fire on you.”
answer,” said Luke.
in easy range yet,” said Thatch, eying the growing image in the screen.
“They won’t fire until they are. So, we’ll string ‘em along a few moments
more. Give Mack all the time we can.”
the Imperial cruiser swell in the screen as more seconds ticked by.
think,” judged Thatch.
He reached out
for the comm panel just as the Imperial voice barked at them again: “Very
well, unidentified craft. You’ve had your last chance to comply. We will
now pass the word to open...”
the ‘send’ button, cutting off the voice as he responded cooly, “Sorry,
Imperial ship. Little problem with the transmitter. Old you know.
Please don’t fire on us. We are complying right now.”
The Ewok began
at once to operate his controls. The ship’s main engines were shut down
swiftly. Bow maneuvering thrusters fired in bursts and slowed the
Entrepreneur’s forward momentum.
In a short
time she was at a dead stop in space. She hung there while the angular
Imperial ship slid up close alongside her port hull. The barrels of the
warship’s starboard gun batteries were all trained on her, ready for a
enough,” Thatch said with satisfaction, checking the Imperial’s proximity
on his screens.
“What do you
mean?” asked a puzzled Luke.
case. But never mind now,” the Ewok said. One of his stubby fingers
pointed to a tiny craft leaving the warship. “They’ve sent a shuttle
out. We need to hustle down and greet our visitors.”
As the shuttle
approached the square salvage scow, the massive jaws of its main bay doors
dropped open to allow entry. The little craft flew in and across the huge
expanse of the bay, passing over the piles of scrap and rubbish to a
landing platform at the rear. Luke’s own little ship was no longer
visible there, but one of the oozier piles of refuse had swelled
By the time
the shuttle had docked and its door opened, Luke and the Ewok had arrived
to meet the Imperial boarding party.
It was a small
one, made up of a hatchet-faced officer and half-a-dozen crewmen. Clearly
they relied on the massive firepower of their ship alongside to keep their
catch in line. The officer carried only a short, black metal baton with a
silver grip. His men were helmeted and armed with blaster pistols.
Commander Ghek,” the officer grandly announced. He glanced around him
superciliously. “And what is this ship?” he demanded.
Entrepreneur, Sir,” the Ewok supplied in an ingratiating voice.
“She’s a simple salvage craft, Sir. I’m surprised you don’t know. I come
through this sector all the time.”
officer said, unmoved. He looked the small, chubby creature up and down.
“Well I certainly don’t know you,” he said. “Just what kind of...
thing are you anyway?”
“I’m an Ewok,
Sir,” he said, tugging a forelock humbly. “Captain Thatch is the name.
Just a poor, simple creature trying to make his way in the galaxy.”
unpleasant way,” said the officer, wrinkling his nose in disgust. His
gaze went to Luke. “And you—who are you?”
his mouth, but Thatch quickly answered for him: “Oh, he’s my first mate.
mate?” Commander Ghek repeated, eying Luke with an eyebrow arched in
surprise. “You—a human—are in the employ of... of this?”
living,” Luke said simply.
answered, with much disapproval. The Empire’s bigoted attitude toward
other types of beings was undisguised.
“But, what can
compare to the wonderful life of a great warrior for the Empire?” said
Ghek shot him
a sharp look, as if uncertain whether this was compliment or sarcasm.
“Any other crew aboard this vessel besides you?” he demanded.
be carrying any contraband, would you, Ewok?” He stepped forward to stand
intimidatingly over the short creature.
Sir,” Thatch assured, looking up to meet his eye unflinchingly.
won’t mind if we look around.”
The Ewok waved
an inviting arm about him. “Go right ahead, Sir.”
Ghek looked to
his men. “All right, search the ship,” he ordered. “Standard drill.
I’ll be on the ship’s bridge.”
into pairs and marched off into various corridors.
certain you wouldn’t rather come to my quarters while you’re waiting,
Sir?” Thatch offered. “You could be more comfortable there. You could
have some tea.”
stiffly replied. “I am on duty. You will conduct me to the Bridge.
complied, leading the officer into a corridor. Luke followed behind.
“Look, all of
this isn’t necessary,” Thatch called back to Ghek as they moved along.
“I’ve had dealings with the Empire for years. Never had any trouble
before. I’ve always reached a fair understanding with the officers. We
could have one too, you and I. One very valuable... to the both of us.”
Ghek looked at
him in a stern way. “Are you trying to bribe me?” he asked coldly.
“Oh, no Sir!”
Thatch said quickly, sounding affronted. “Of course not, Sir. Wouldn’t
think of it!”
would be very dangerous,” the officer said. He rhythmically slapped his
baton into a palm in a meaningful way. “Very dangerous indeed.”
to the small bridge. Ghek looked around at it searchingly, examined a few
instrument settings, then fixed the Ewok with a glinting, narrowed gaze.
“Tell me,” he
said slowly, “where is it exactly that you’re bound for?”
we’re just cruising about Sir,” Thatch said vaguely, “visiting planets
here-and-there, Sir, all about, Sir.”
“I see. And
just where have you come from?”
ah, all over, Sir. Hard to say exactly.”
stick smacked hard into the palm. “Be specific beast,” Ghek demanded.
“And don’t hedge. We can examine your computer’s flight records for the
Sir,” Thatch soothed. “No need for upset, Sir. I picked up my last load
from a moon in the Arkanis sector.”
Ghek stared at him even more piercingly. “We had a report from that
subsector to look out for a criminal who had escaped from a Tatooine
Imperial patrol. Killed several men, I understand. Quite a dangerous
being. He was said to have been tracked on a heading in this direction,
flying in a fast sport ship. You didn’t happen to come across one of
those, by any chance?”
shook his head emphatically. “No. Not us, Sir.”
A voice came
from behind them. “Commander, look!”
They turned to
see a pair of the armed crewmen march onto the bridge.
these in a disposal bin, Sir,” one of the men briskly reported. “It was
about to be incinerated.”
The young Jedi
tried to maintain a stone-faced look as the crewman tossed a pile down on
the deck before his officer.
It was of his
moved forward and poked at the pile with the tip of his baton. He snagged
the long outer cloak and lifted it to examine.
garment,” Ghek said musingly. He shook it. A rain of fine, glinting
particles fell out. “Very sandy too.” He looked up to them. “Tatooine
is a desert planet, is it not?”
“We pick up
things from all over,” Thatch began. We...”
swung his stick out in a hard, horizontal blow, catching the Ewok on the
side of his head. The furry being went flying sideways, thudding down on
little cur,” Ghek snarled. “I want no more lies from you.”
He lifted the
garment higher. “Very long.” He looked back to the Ewok. “A bit too
long for you, eh?” He looked to Luke. “But, you!”
and glanced about him for some escape. But the Ewok was down, appearing
stunned and helpless. The warship was poised to strike. There was
nothing to do.
While the two
grabbed Luke’s arms and put guns to his head, the Commander got on his
wrist comlink to the other crewmen. “Back here,” he ordered. “At the
the other four came pounding back onto the platform.
“Two of you
restrain him,” Ghek commanded. “The others keep him covered.”
already holding Luke both holstered their weapons, and each took a firm
grip on his arms with both of their hands. The other crewmen kept their
blasters trained on his chest.
said to Luke, stepping toward him, “let me ask you a few questions. And
don’t hesitate to answer them honestly.”
He took hold
of the baton’s grip and pulled. From within its black tube a slender rod
of a translucent white slowly slid into view. The blunt tip of it was a
brightly glowing ice-blue.
powerfully charged,” Ghek said, lifting the rod’s tip close before Luke’s
face. Its glow turned the young Jedi’s pale face to a deathly hue. “It’s
quite useful for prodding the reluctant into being more open with us.”
Ghek smiled, his teeth gleaming with the blue light. “A few touches of it
here-and-there, and even mutes have been known to acquire a voice. So
now, my friend, is that garment yours?”
The blue tip
lightly brushed across Luke’s hand. Twining tendrils of the azure light
flickered from it to run up Luke’s arm. The limb convulsed from
fingertips to shoulder blade. He stiffened as if from a strong electric
We’ll try again,” Ghek calmly said. “Are you from Tatooine?”
touched Luke’s chest. The net of light flared out across it from the
prod’s tip. This time, Luke’s whole body shook in a brief but violent
spasm. It left him panting hard.
making this very difficult,” Ghek said. “There are other places,” he
grinned sadistically, “more tender places where the effect will be
much worse—even fatal—if enough pressure is applied. Shall I
demonstrate? Or, will you talk?”
He began to
move the rod’s tip downward.
I’ll tell you,” a gruff voice behind Ghek called.
turned around. The little Ewok had partially recovered and was sitting
“What is it
that you have to say?” Ghek asked. “Quick, now.”
that you won’t do me any harm if I tell you all I know,” Thatch asked Ghek
in a squeaky, timorous voice.
nothing except that you surely will suffer if you don’t,”
the officer shot back.
innocent,” Thatch whined pitifully. “I didn’t know who he was. I swear
to you. His ship was broken down. Drifting into a sun, it was. I just
saved him. Did him a good deed! I didn’t know he was a bloody criminal!”
Luke, unable to hide his astonishment at this gross betrayal.
Ghek warned, shaking the rod at him. Then, to the Ewok, he said goadingly,
Thatch did go
on, the words tumbling from him:
“I took him
aboard not far off Tatooine. He offered me money to take him away—far
away. When you stopped us, he said he’d kill me if I gave him away. A
cruel one he is. Oh, yes Sir. Your killer for certain.”
know,” Ghek said cautiously. “What proof have you?”
got a weapon,” said Thatch. “A special one. Some kind of a... well, like
a sword with a blade of light.”
light?” the commander said with great interest. “Really? Show it to me.”
“He’s got it
hidden away. But I know where. I can get it for you, if you’ll promise
to let me go.”
considered, looking to Luke. “So you have a lightsaber, eh? Could it
have been the infamous Skywalker himself who escaped from Tatooine? Could
I have captured him?” He looked back to the Ewok, speaking decisively:
“Very well. Get this weapon for me.”
“Help me get
up then,” said Thatch. “I’ll have it brought.”
He extended a
paw. The commander stepped to him, took it, and hauled the Ewok to his
feet. Thatch shuffled over to his control console, moving with seeming
“I only have
to call one of my droids,” he said, preparing to punch the communications
button. “It’ll fetch the thing for us.”
“Don’t do it,
Thatch,” Luke called to him. “Please!”
other choice,” the Ewok responded. “Survival always comes first.”
looked around to Luke, smiling gloatingly. “Looks like we have you in our
clutches at last, you murdering religious freak!”
of the Jedi
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
Kenneth C. Flint
Find his other books at:
See his author Facebook page at:
attention shifted toward Luke and away from Thatch, the Ewok acted.
With a lithe
quickness that belied his apparent pain, the little creature grabbed the
prod, wrenching it from the officer’s hand.
began in surprise as his head whipped back around to Thatch.
finished. The word turned to a rising scream of agony as the Ewok
reversed the rod and drove its glowing tip ruthlessly, powerfully, and
with a growl of satisfaction right up into the man’s groin.
crackled outward from the power tip. It ran up in a ragged, spreading web
across the officer’s stomach and down in twining vines along the columns
of his legs. He shuddered violently, body drawn up tautly, as his scream
crewmen looked around toward him, their gun muzzles swinging away from
Luke. Luke used the opening to act himself.
He jerked the
man holding his left arm hard around. The sudden move caught the man
off-guard and he slammed into the man on the right. They staggered away,
both releasing Luke.
The other four
guards caught the movement and began to swing back. Luke’s hand shot out
toward one of the staggered men, his outspread fingers straining
beckoningly. The man’s blaster flew from its holster to Luke, the butt
slapping into his palm.
shots from him and three of the armed crewmen were knocked backward to
fall with smoking, lethal wounds.
returned fire, but the agile young Jedi ducked away, rolling to the
shelter of the captain’s chair.
still-armed one who had held him yanked out his blaster and the two
crewmen opened fire, their shots ricocheting from the chair in sprays of
sparks. Luke’s return bolts were more accurate, felling both.
deck, Thatch now finally pulled the rod away from Ghek. The network of
power playing across the officer died. He sagged to the metal floor like
disarmed crewman looked about at his fallen comrades in shock, then turned
Thatch yelled to Luke, but the young man hesitated.
The Ewok did
not. As the Imperial reached the bridge hatchway, Thatch hurled the rod.
Like a dagger it flew, end-over-end, flashing to its mark. The glowing
tip jabbed deep into the man’s back just behind the heart. There was a
single, sharp flash from the rod.
gasped. His neck snapped back. He toppled and crashed down.
have fired,” Thatch said to Luke, waddling to the downed man.
shoot him in the back,” said Luke.
warned them,” the Ewok practically pointed out. “Had to be done.” He
drew the rod out of the fatal wound. It was cracked and dark now, the
power expended in the last burst. “Well, that’s done for,” he said, and
tossed it away.
their ship?” asked Luke.
next,” the captain said, moving to his console. “Got to act quick, too.
They’ll be wondering what happened to this lot real soon.”
into his command chair, still smoking in spots from the blaster hits, and
started working controls.
“What can we
do?” asked Luke, watching curiously.
speed to outrun them,” Thatch explained, “but we’ve surely enough power
for something else. Tractor beams!”
He punched a
final button. An electrical whining sound rose all about them, growing
swiftly in intensity.
patrol cruiser drifting close beside them was yanked abruptly sideways.
Within it the entire crew was staggered, many falling down. In seconds
the ship was drawn across the gap to slam against the salvage scow’s flat
metal wall of hull.
ship’s thick armor plate smashed full onto the outthrust muzzles of the
turbolaser batteries. Some guns were crushed, others driven from their
mounts. A few exploded. Gun crews bolted in panic.
Thatch said with satisfaction. “Those beams have pulled the hulks of
full-size destroyers out of high-gravity fields. This one won’t be going
anywhere. And she can’t fire at us now.”
“But, we can’t
go anywhere either,” Luke pointed out.
“We don’t want
to. Not yet.”
pushed another series of buttons and pulled a large lever. Now a
grumbling, grinding sound joined the whine of tractor beam power.
Huge panels at
the bow, stern, and waist of the Entrepreneur slid open. From
within the ship, three long points some thirty yards in circumference
emerged, sliding outward on the expanding sections of thick, telescoping
rods. Their tips flared with a brilliant, blue-white incandescence. They
touched the side of the Imperial craft at forward, mid-ship and aft
points, melting their way in through the thick metal as if it was a soft
cheese touched by three hot knives.
Imperial crew was just recovering from the first jarring, frantically
trying to access what had happened to them, when the tips broke through.
confusion ensued. As the hull’s integrity was breached, the inner
atmosphere burst outward. Men scrambled to escape from the compartments
as their air was voided and the freezing vacuum of space poured in.
penetrating points on their extending rods were relentless. They shoved
on ahead through the inner compartments, melting in through the width of
the ship, thrusting wide, ragged channels deep into her vitals.
those things?” asked Luke, watching the spectacle on the view screens with
mixed fascination and horror.
torches,” Thatch tersely explained. “I use them for cutting apart salvage
too big to bring inside. Though it’s usually at a safer distance than
this. They can dismember a full-size battleship in ten minutes.”
And it was
clear their work on this much smaller Imperial ship would go a great deal
captive and stricken vessel it was all chaos now. A very few men stuck to
the bridge controls, vainly trying to break free of the scow’s death
grip. The rest ran helter-skelter through the ship as the tips rammed on
in, burning through bulkheads, equipment, and machines, causing explosions
and structural collapse.
Many of the
surprised crew were trapped before they could escape. The rest managed to
reach the craft’s escape pods, and a dozen or so of the small, round
vehicles blasted safely away from their dying mother-ship.
Very soon it
was over. The tips of the torches melted through to the other side and
popped from the opposite hull. The Imperial, like a speared fish, hung
helplessly impaled on the three points while the last of her oxygen bled
away, and the last of her power died.
pretty well,” Thatch proclaimed in an approving way.
buttons and pulled levers again. The three torches withdrew on their
retractable rods. The sound of the tractor beams died. Released, the
Imperial ship drifted slowly away. The sparkling electrical light of
severed power cables flared in her gaping holes. No signs of life showed.
Luke stared at
the wreckage with dismay.
killed several hundred men,” he said.
shrugged. “Didn’t leave us very much choice, now, did they, Mate?”
Luke shook his
head. “I suppose not,” he said regretfully. “I had just hoped that the
killing was finally over.”
soldier, Mate,” Thatch said. “So long as you stay one, there’ll be
battles to fight. You can mark me on that.”
right,” Luke said thoughtfully, looking at the dead ship. “Maybe you’re
Falcon flew out over the sands of Tatooine.
slowly and glided close above the ground while Han, Leia, and Chewie
looked out searchingly from her cockpit at the monotonous landscape
spreading far about them.
“I know old
Ben didn’t live real far from town,” Han said as he piloted the ship. “It
seems like the most likely spot for Luke to have come from if he did walk
“And one of
the most likely spots for him to visit here,” added Leia. “What better
reason would he have had to return to Tatooine again? He told me he’d had
a strong urge to come back and see the old places again.”
“And he told
me he was trying to find something he’d lost here,” added Han.
“Something to do with the Force. Well, Ben’s sure the one that all
started with.” He peered ahead of them with a worried frown. “I just
hope this is the right direction.”
Leia too gazed
at the still-empty vista. “It does seem like we’ve been searching this
way for a long time.”
“Should I try
another sweep?” he asked.
said, her gaze fixing on something off to their left. “I saw a glint.”
She pointed. “Go over that way.”
the Falcon around in a slow, banking turn. Soon a ridge appeared ahead.
Then a small building nestled against its base became visible. Finally
they could see that the glint was caused by sunlight reflecting from a
flat glass surface. It was the front canopy window of an X-wing fighter.
further and circled over the area while they scrutinized it carefully.
“That’s got to
be it,” he declared.
said Leia, pointing again. “On the ridge.”
He looked. In
a sheltered spot atop the line of rocks sat another X-Wing.
“I don’t know
what that’s about,” he said. “But we’ve gotta check this out. Chewie,
let’s put ‘er down by the house.”
slid in and settled to the desert in a brief flurry of blown sand. In
moments her ramp dropped down. Chewie, Han, and Leia emerged, all armed
with blasters, and walked cautiously to the ground.
there to look warily around. The area seemed deserted. They approached
Luke’s all right,” Han said as they reached its side. “I know the
markings. Chewie, go up and check that other one on the ridge. Oh, and
be careful about it, huh?”
barked an acknowledgement and went off. Han went to the equipment bay in
the ship’s side.
in here,” he told Leia. “You wanna check the cockpit?”
special?” she asked.
“Who knows? We’re fakin’ this, remember?”
opened the bay and began to poke through stored equipment, Leia climbed up
the ship and into the cockpit. As the two searched, Valladian and then
Gowan ventured out of the Falcon. They gazed around—Valladian curiously,
Gowan with great distaste—then walked to the fighter.
deciphering the reply to our coded transmission to Mon Mothma,” the
Senator told them. “She is relieved we have survived, but is naturally
most distressed by what has happened.”
the cease fire?” Leia asked from the cockpit.
continue to hold to it for now,” he replied, “unless further provoked.
She agrees that it is a most crucial priority at present to see that young
Skywalker is found and protected if need be. You have her permission to
“Look here, is
all this going to take long?” Gowan peevishly asked. “It’s very hot
here. I’m actually perspiring.”
you don’t spoil your clothes,” said Han. He slammed the bay closed in
frustration. “Nothing at all here that can help us.”
Leia gave up
her own search, climbing out on the wing of the fighter. “I don’t find
anything here either. He didn’t leave any information on the shipboard
computer. There’re no messages. Nothing.”
young man have left such a thing here?” Valladian reasoned. “It would
seem he meant to conceal his ship by leaving it in this place. But should
any one hostile to him come upon it, any information left inside would be
got a point,” said Han. “Let’s try the house.”
He and Leia
crossed to the abandoned structure and carefully moved inside. The other
two followed them, Gowan reluctantly.
has really been trashed,” Han unnecessarily remarked as he moved into the
center of the house’s single room.
said Gowan. “Some friend of yours actually lived here?”
Han and Leia
both ignored him as they began to poke around. Han picked through litter
on the floor, peered into any likely looking hidey hole. Leia moved
around the room, searching with her eyes. Finally she was drawn to a
studded chest in one corner. She opened it to find it empty.
seem to be anything here either,” she said in disappointed tones, dropping
the lid closed.
“Not that I
can see.” Han looked to her. “But, what about feelings, Leia? Do you
get any sense of Luke here?”
concentrated on the room for a moment. “I... I don’t know,” she said at
last. “I do get something. An impression of some energy. But I’m not
sure it’s from him. And... I think it’s coming from outside.”
“Let’s try to
pin it down,” he said.
They all went
out. She paused, considered, then began to move slowly, step-by-step,
like a dowser following the forked stick’s vibrations to a well. She
paced away from the house and around one side, making her way to the base
of the ridge behind.
there, head cocked, face frowning, as if listening to some distant sound.
Then she nodded and pointed to the ground.
“If you say
so,” said Han. He gestured to Gowan. “C’mon, pal. Let’s dig.”
the astonished prince.
“Hey, you got
the longest fingernails. Get to work.”
With a glower
at Han, the young man squatted by him and they both began to scoop away
sand. As they worked, Han said with trepidation:
“I sure hope
weren’t not gonna find...” He stopped abruptly as he realized the horror
of what he would say. He looked up to Leia.
Luke?’ she finished for him. “No,” she assured. “I know it’s not him.
I’d know if he had died.”
scraped away a foot thick layer of sand when they struck something. A
square of heavy cloth had been stretched out and anchored at the corners
by rocks. Han rolled it back revealing a hole. Something in the hole
gleamed in the light from above.
down and lifted it out. A smooth, milk white bowl of crystal came into
view. He held it up. It shone iridescently in the sunlight.
Han handed it
this,” she said with definiteness, feeling the object over. “He hid it
here.” She looked down into it. “There’s something inside.”
She reached in
and pulled out a small, flat circle of metal.
transmission disk,” said Han elatedly. “Come on. Let’s play it.”
the disk into a slot on a wall console at the work station in the Falcon’s
lounge. From a lens above it a beam was projected onto the deck below.
Within the beam floated the 3-D image of Luke Skywalker’s head.
seeing this, I hope it’s you Leia,” the image said. “I’ve figured that
only you would have followed me here and that only you could have found
this message in the bowl. If this is you, it probably means
something’s happened to me. I knew if it did, you’d come and track me
into the Unknown Regions. There’s a chance I won’t get back. If I don’t,
I want this bowl to be in your hands. It holds a secret of the Jedi, Leia.
That should be passed to you. Maybe you don’t have the skills in the
Force to learn it now, but someday you will. Keep it safe.
“Don’t try to
follow or find me, Leia,” he went on. “This is something I’ve got to do
alone. I hope you’ll understand. Say good-bye to Han and Chewie and the
rest for me. And, may the Force be with you all.”
flickered and vanished. The transmitting light beam went out.
from the spot where Luke’s face had been to the bowl on a nearby table.
“A secret of the Jedi?” she said.
“Maybe it can
tell us where he went,” suggested Han.
asked, moving to it. “What does it do?”
there’s some kind of Jedi trick to it,” said Han. “Why don’t you try some
of that Force stuff on it, Leia? Try to concentrate.”
She picked it
up and held it out before her in both hands. She bowed her head over it,
closed her eyes, and went tense. Her face drew into a hard frown as she
bent her whole will to the task.
awed Senator Valladian breathed, pointing at the bowl.
crystal was beginning to glow.
brighter, held steady a moment, wavered, then fluttered out like a blown
flame. Leia relaxed and took in a deep breath.
said. “Luke was right. I don’t have the Jedi skills to make this work
“Could you get
anything at all?” asked Han.
sense of a place... a planet, I think... very strong in the Force. But
that’s all. No idea of where it is.”
setting the bowl gently back down on the table when Chewbacca entered the
greeted Han. “Whaddya find?”
growled and grunted out a rather long speech to him.
“Ah, the other
ship’s empty,” Han translated for the rest. “No sign who flew it either,
Chewy held up
a blue fighter pilot’s helmet. They all examined it closely.
“A helmet from
Blue Flight Squadron,” Leia identified. “Why would he have come here?
Luke left the base alone.”
Squadron,” Han said musingly. “Wedge.”
“What do you
mean?” asked Leia.
“Wedge told me
right before we left that they found a guy dead. A Blue Squadron pilot.
And his ship turned up missing.”
missing anymore,” Leia said grimly. “Han, somebody’s after Luke. They’re
following him wherever it is he’s going. I’m sure of it.”
“It could well
be some agent of High Admiral Tharkus,” put in Valladian. “If he really
does mean to destroy the threat of any Force-wielders, this follower of
your young Jedi might be an assassin!”
“We’ve got to
go after him, Han,” Leia said anxiously. “We have to warn him. Give him
“Luke told us
he had to do this thing alone,” Han pointed out.
“He can’t know
that he’s in this kind of danger,” she argued back. “He doesn’t know
what’s at stake, including the New Republic.”
there,” he agreed. “We don’t have much choice. But how’ll we find him?
He’s got a long start. And we don’t know where he’s going.”
“We know he’s
headed for the Unknown Regions.”
“Oh yeah,” he
said dryly. “Some help. Do you know how big that section of the galaxy
is? You wanna find one planet there? It’d be easier finding one
sand grain in this desert! A trillion-to-one!”
you said ‘Never tell me the odds!’” she retorted. “We’ve got to do
it, no matter what,” she added stubbornly, striking a hands-on-hips pose.
“We have to try. We’ll worry about the rest when we get there.”
Han looked at
her and grinned. “You know, you’re starting to sound like me.” He looked
around to the Wookie. “Okay then, Chewy. You heard the lady. Get the
Falcon fired up. We’ve gotta long way to go!”
He turned away
from them to mutter under his breath: “And I hope to hell we come back!”
shape of Thatch’s salvage scow swept around a blinking marker beacon at a
safe distance and sailed on into the space beyond.
the last of the frontier, mate.” The Ewok told Luke. “There’s only the
Unknown Regions ahead of us now.”
“Do you have
any idea why the section of the galactic disk has gone unexplored for so
long?” Luke asked, peering ahead at the relatively same looking vista of
blackness and stars.
your poison: a tangle of hyperspace anomalies, hidden empires brimming
with advanced weaponry, ancient races, monsters of all shapes and sizes,
the Wizards of the Night Spirit, you name it. It’s not one of the densest
packed fringes of the Galaxy, as far as stars go,” Thatch surmised. But
we’ve all heard tales that the place was... well, I guess haunted
might be the best word.”
Luke said with interest, looking to him. “How do you mean?”
sure. Just legends. Ewoks and starship captains are a superstitious
lot. There are several somethings that are strange about the place, and
most have heard enough stories to believe it isn’t safe to travel here.
There were preliminary probes of it, before the Great War, and even
later. But no one’s been paying too much attention to exploring it.”
more intently out into it.
said musingly. “Still, somewhere out there is the one place I was told
may have the answer to my fate.”
“I... uh... I
know it’s a great secret and all,” Thatch said hesitantly, “but, I think
it’s time you give me at least a bit more idea of just where it is we’re
“I’m not sure
I know that anymore,” Luke said in an odd, indecisive way. The great
turmoil in the young man was clearly visible in his troubled expression.
“I’ve been thinking, about what you’ve said. If I go to the... to where I
was told to go, I wonder if I’ll be doing the right thing. I mean, before
this all started, all I really wanted was a chance to do something...
something for myself. To be what I chose to be. Not a farmer like Uncle
Owen wanted, or a soldier like the war’s made me.”
“I’m not quite
following you there, mate,” said the Ewok.
to clarify, both for Thatch and himself. “It’s just that, at the
beginning, becoming a Jedi Knight seemed like what I wanted to do. But
since then it’s just sort of taken over. I’ve been swept along, doing
what it seemed like I had to do. There’s never been time to think, to
adjust, to find out what it all means. Do you see? I want to understand
not just what a true Jedi is, but who and what I am too. Do I have
to give up one to be the other?”
understand having questions about that,” the Ewok told him
sympathetically. “No one should have to become anything besides what he
easy,” said Luke. “But you’ve never had the powers pulling and pushing at
you that I have. I know you don’t understand this, but I’m supposed to be
going to a place where there’s something a whole lot stronger than I am,
than maybe any or all of us are. It could be I’ll find all my
answers there. But it could also be that I’ll lose my chance to ever be
He stared out
into the space ahead of them again.
“I can feel it
out there already... calling me,” he said. “It’s... it’s like hearing a
song being sung, by a single, high, sweet voice, very far away but very
clear. And it’s calling to me, Thatch. Calling my name. It’s trying to
pull me closer, draw me in, wrap me up... hold me forever...”
He broke off
suddenly, turning to the Ewok, new words rushing out in a torrent of
urgency: “Maybe we should run away. Just fly clear of here. I could
leave it all behind, at least for now. I could sail around the galaxy
with you, get some idea of life that’s really my own. Maybe then I’d
understand what I should do.”
saying you’d cast aside this great quest you’re on?” the Ewok said with
surprise. “Just hang on there. Not so hasty lad. I know what I said
before, but, listening to you now, I say it’s not such a good idea.”
changed your mind about taking me?” Luke asked.
I’d be glad to have you. Just not right now is all. Not this way. I may
be only a simple Ewok, but I know that whatever the challenge is you’ve
got to see it through. You’ve said as much yourself. Until you’ve found
your answer, you’ll never have peace to do anything else.”
considered his words, then nodded. “You’re right,” he conceded. “There’s
no sense in trying to put it off. I suppose that means I’d better give
you the course directions.”
“Not right to
the spot though,” Thatch quickly cautioned. “You needn’t be spilling its
exact location to me. I’m of a race known for great curiosity, but we
have great honor too. It’s an important secret you’re holding and I don’t
want to be pressing you to betray it, even to me.”
“I don’t see
why not,” said Luke. “You’re my friend. You saved my life. I wouldn’t
have gotten so far without your help.”
“Even so, you
must let me respect your privacy in this. And there’s no need to be
compromising yourself. I’ve got a little shuttle of my own. Only a short
range hopper, of course, but it’ll get you around a few close systems. So
you can take it on your last leg all alone. I’ll give you its optimum
range, and you just give me a general heading to the outmost spot. When
we’re close enough, I’ll lay off and wait while you go ahead. In case
anything happens, I’ll not know anything I’m not supposed to.”
considered, then nodded agreement. “Yes, that probably is better. I
don’t know what to expect. I don’t want you in danger. And I am
supposed to be doing this alone.”
said with satisfaction. “That’s all settled.”
told him warmly. “You know, I can’t tell you how much good you’ve done
for me, somebody I could just talk to about things. I mean, somebody who
wasn’t involved, who could stand away and look at things from the
outside. I really appreciate that.”
patted Luke’s arm with a furry paw. “You just go out on your mission and
get it over with, my friend,” he said. “After that, why we’ll have all
the time in the universe to talk.”
like a heavy cloak enveloped Luke as he battled through a choking tangle
of vines and came into the cavern.
He stopped in
the smothering dark, panting heavily as his hunted gaze searched around
From ahead, a
monstrous reptilian creature suddenly appeared, stalking toward him on
thick hind legs, teeth-lined jaws slavering.
away. But a noise behind brought him swinging around. A periscope-like
eyeball on a stalk popped up from the blackness as if rising from the
sea. Long tentacles snaked forward from it to catch and entangle his
trying vainly to pull away. From his right, a massive ape of white shaggy
fur lumbered forward to seize one arm. From his left, a fat slug of a
creature oozed in to seize the other.
He was hauled
taut, tugged three ways, lifted and held immobile, legs bound out straight
and arms stretched far to the sides, as the monstrous reptile stepped in
and opened its dripping jaws to close upon his head.
“Use the Force
Luke,” an advising voice came to him, echoing in the vast black.
And he was
suddenly free, his ignited lightsaber humming in his hand, facing all the
creatures that now stood in a knot in front of him.
He swept the
glowing blade out before him threateningly, taking a step forward. The
nightmare creatures cringed back in open terror. He smiled in
satisfaction at their fear.
them,” a sonorous voice boomed from Luke’s right side. “They are your
enemies. Release your anger. Destroy them!”
toward the voice. A new form loomed out of the shadows. It was a giant
human figure, clad in black armor and helmet and death’s head visor,
enshrouded in a black cloak.
breathed in astonishment.
“Join with me,
Luke,” the figure said in its commanding thunder of a voice. It lifted a
hand to beckon to him. “I am your father. Join me and together we can
rule the universe!”
cried. “You’re not my father!”
“But, I am.”
The voice was suddenly soft, compelling. The armor and the black cloak
dropped away, revealing a tall figure of shimmering light with a
world-weary, benign face. “You know it to be true, my son. You cannot
deny it. The Force is strong in all the Skywalker clan. Don’t try to
to them, kid,” said a voice from his other side. He looked to the left to
see Han Solo standing there, smiling in his old, careless way. “It’s all
a big crock anyway. Forget those hokey religions. C’mon. You’re a good
fighter. I could use you!”
But even as
Luke opened his mouth to reply, the image was shifting, transforming into
that of a pudgy, aging man with an impatient look.
“You can play
games with your friends later, boy!” he snapped. “You’ve got important
work to do right here. I need you Luke. You can’t just abandon us.”
Owen...” a dismayed Luke began.
He was cut off
by another voice on his right. “Never mind him,” it said sternly.
back to see that his father’s form had now been replaced by that of
understood you, Luke,” the man reasoned. “He never had any interest in
the rebellion or the Jedi. But you have to have. They all depend
on you now. There is no other choice.”
said a cracked, squeaky voice to his right. He looked there again, this
time to see the small form of the Jedi Master in his robe, the gnarled
walking stick in one hand.
bewildered Luke said with relief.
are always, young Jedi,” the being admonished, shaking the stick at him.
“To think or not. To believe or not. To act or not. The light and dark
sides of the Force are two branches of the same tree. Try to influence or
seduce you, they may, but control you, they cannot. That, your own choice
“Help me make
it,” Luke appealed. “Please, Yoda. I trust you.”
is your first mistake!” the being replied.
form bulged, swelled grotesquely up and outward, and was torn asunder as
another figure swiftly grew from it. It was a hunched figure too, also
robed and holding a gnarled stick. But it was a larger, darker, more
sinister being, and its features were hidden within the shadow of a cowl.
one is wrong,” it said in a harsh, arrogant, cackling voice. “The light
is weak. It has no will to fight. No passion to win. You want to be a
winner, young Jedi. You want to be in control. And you can do so! Only
give in to your deepest desires. Follow your natural instincts. Embrace
the dark side. Only then will you understand what you can truly
With this the
figure’s hands lifted to the cowl, tugging it back. It fell away to
reveal—not the Emperor’s aged face, but the young face of Luke Skywalker,
grinning back at him.
screamed as he jerked bolt upright.
ahead of him, panting breathlessly. His naked body was streaming with
sweat. He looked around him at the little cabin of the salvage scow and
down at the bunk on which he had been sleeping. Slowly his breathing
eased. His look of confusion began to clear as he reoriented himself.
quickly and went out, mounting to the bridge. The Ewok was on duty there
already, in his captain’s chair.
Thatch greeted. “Did you get some sleep?”
Luke said vaguely. “I started getting restless.”
“Well, it was
a good chance that brought you up here anyway. I would have called you
soon. We’re getting close to your coordinates.”
think it was chance,” Luke said musingly. “Something told me to come
right up here. It’s like all my senses have been getting sharper the
farther in we go. I can sense a lot more. And my brain’s more active.”
He shook his head. “A little too active! It’s calling up all
kinds of things.”
excitement, Mate,” Thatch said dismissingly. “You’re finally getting
close. It’s natural.”
something else,” said Luke. He frowned in concentration. “I think I can
feel other energy. It’s confused, but I think its minds...a lot of
minds all working at once. There’s a sort of drone from it, and getting
stronger. Could there be someone else out here? Some kind of intelligent
instruments haven’t picked up signs of any inhabited planets around, but
that doesn’t mean much out here,” Thatch said doubtfully, examining the
sensor readouts on his monitors. “I just hope that... wait!”
examined one of his monitors for some moments.
shadowed,” he announced at last. “Faint blips of contacts just on the
fringe of their range.”
“I don’t know
exactly,” the Ewok said. He looked again at the pips of light on the
screen then lifted his gaze to Luke. “Lots!”
“I don’t think
so. Not out here.”
examined the sensor displays again. “They’re not just following. They’re
showing up on the sides, ahead, all around. Oh, oh.” He looked to Luke
again. Even his furry visage couldn’t hide his worried frown as he grimly
proclaimed: “We’re surrounded.”
“But you can’t
tell by who?” asked Luke.
“No, but we’re
going to find out,” Thatch told him. “They’re closing in!”
And as he
spoke, myriad points of light appeared dead ahead. It seemed at first to
be a field of densely packed stars, but as it neared it resolved into a
fleet of separate ships. Human and Ewok checked all the viewscreens.
More ships were gliding in on the Entrepreneur from all directions.
many hundreds of them, perhaps a thousand, grouped so closely they seemed
like an insect swarm homing in on some savory food target.
They formed a
most bizarre and rag-tag fleet. All the ships were of a small to medium
size, their outer hulls showing the scoring and wear of long space
traveling. Their configurations were of widely varied, often strange
design, and this strangeness was further amplified by the ships’ markings.
For most of
them had been lavishly and colorfully decorated. Some of their once-dull
metal hulls were painted as birds or beasts. Some were covered with
landscapes, portraits, and still-life images. Others were done in
abstracts, geometric patterns or swirling masses of color. Altogether
they made an intriguing and beautiful sight.
remarked the Ewok, staring out at them. “Look at the markings. And the
ships! All types. All periods. They must be from all over the galaxy.”
covered up recognition symbols, emblems, serial numbers,” said Luke.
“There isn’t any way to tell exactly who they are or where they’re from.”
blast through them?” asked the Ewok. “They’re pretty small. We have the
think we could do that without hitting a few,” said Luke. “Why don’t we
just see what they want?”
“We did that
once before,” Thatch reminded him.
“I don’t get
any feeling of hostility from them,” Luke replied. “I’m not going to hurt
anyone else if I don’t have to. Trust me.”
reluctantly, but worked his controls. Once more the square ship slowed to
become dead in space.
ships slowed with it, forming up around it as a hollow sphere, the scow in
the exact center.
“I’ve got a
bad feeling about this,” said Thatch. “So what do we do now?”
could answer, they were hailed from the inter-ship communicator. The
speaker was decidedly informal:
square ship... why are you invading our part of space? Do you come here
“We’re on a
mission,” Luke responded. “We only want to sail through without bothering
Unknown Regions?” the voice said skeptically. “Come now. No one comes
here on missions, except for pirates and the government.”
private mission of my own,” said Luke. “I really don’t mean any harm.”
eh?” said the voice, interested now. “Well now, we’re all on a pilgrimage
here, friend. So, why don’t you just prove it to us then? Stop and
talk. Let us see who you are. Prove to us you’re no threat.”
welcome to come aboard,” offered Luke.
pilgrim,” was the answer. “You want us to trust you, you come here.”
of you. Move aside, some of you others, and give our new friend the
A cluster of
ships ahead parted, sliding aside, revealing a much larger vessel that lay
beyond. Luke and the Ewok looked toward it with fascination.
It was in an
unusual configuration, similar to that of a huge, spreading daisy bloom.
The central disk of it was a gleaming dome of transparent material.
Around it a dozen long, narrow wedges rayed out like flower petals. Each
one was a different color, mostly pastel shades of pinks, yellows, and
unusual craft,” said Thatch. “More like a space station than a ship. And
what is it that’s under that big central dome?”
Luke peered at
the masses of green vaguely discernible behind the curve of clear wall.
he said. “I think it’s a bioship.”
“I don’t like
this,” the Ewok said darkly. “Do you really mean to go over there?”
But you stay here. I’ll talk to them alone. That way, if anything goes
wrong, you can still blast free.”
“I could go
over with you,” the Ewok stoutly volunteered.
enough already,” Luke said. “I got us into this. I’ll get us out.”
Mate,” Thatch reluctantly agreed. “It’s your call. I’ll show you my
shuttle and give you a piloting run-down.”
told him. And into the communicator microphone he said: “Hello large
ship. Do you copy? I’m accepting your invitation. You can prepare to
receive our shuttle. It might take a few minutes, though. Do you mind?”
time, pilgrim,” was the drawled reply. “We of the Way Out Here are in no
hurry at all.”
Imperial patrol ship drifted dead in space.
appearances the ghostly wreck might have been flotsam on the star tides
for an eternity. The internal flares of shorted electrical systems had
faded with the final exhaustion of power. This had extinguished all
remaining ship’s lights too, leaving it only a dark mass of useless metal.
Not far off of
its beam drifted another ship—the Millennium Falcon. The powerful beams
of her front searchlights played across the hulk, pausing as they lit each
of the ragged puncture wounds. In the cockpit, Leia and Han peered out at
the grisly scene through the front windows.
to it?” asked Leia.
said Han. “Something pretty powerful. And it must’ve been some strange
armament to blast holes through like that.”
“Could it have
“We don’t know about any other Alliance forces in this area. He only had
a sporter, though. Nothing that could do this. I can’t believe he
would’ve got jumped anyway. Any decent pilot could zip right through the
patrol zone easy. I’ve heard the Imperial screen here’s pretty light.”
she said slowly. She looked hard toward the ship. “Still... I have a
strong feeling that somehow it was him.”
feeling again?” Han said skeptically. “Kind of hard to get that in
space, isn’t it?”
it seems to be getting easier. My senses seem to be getting more
heightened—as if something was making them grow stronger.”
“If you say
so,” he said. “Can’t say that I’ll ever understand how this Force thing
works with you two. Anyway, it means we’re on the right track. I guess
that’s better’n nothing.”
Leia looked to
him. “Oh, Han,” she said with concern, “do you think we’ll find him in
“I don’t know
Leia,” he told her frankly. “We don’t have any idea what’s involved, who
all’s after him, or how far ahead he is. We’ve got to just take this a
step at a time.”
that I’ve never felt so lost,” she admitted in frustrated tones. “So much
is so wrong. Luke and Artoo are gone; Threepio’s been so… damaged;
you and I...” She broke off, leaving the last point unfinished.
He put a hand
on her arm. “Hey, don’t even think about that,” he told her earnestly.
“It’s way behind us. We’re working together now, aren’t we? Just like
always. And we’ll beat this thing—just like always.”
She looked at
his hand. Her eyes lifted from it to his face. He smiled his crooked
little smile of encouragement. Then their gazes locked with a greater
intensity. They leaned toward one another, drawn together by a mutual
impulse, their lips moving in to touch...
self-conscious “Harrumph” sounded, and they pulled quickly apart, both
looking a bit flustered.
Valladian, standing in the cockpit door, looked a little abashed too at
sorry,” he said. “I just wondered what was going on.”
at all, Senator,” said Han, not fully hiding his chagrin. “I was just
gonna set our next travel coordinates.”
He turned to
his controls while Leia turned to Valladian.
leg will take us through an Imperial zone and then into the Unknown
Regions, Senator,” she told him.
want us to put you off at one of your outposts before we leave your
territory. You don’t need to continue this chase with us.”
“Oh, but I
do,” he replied. “Tharkus has badly damaged our peace effort. He has
left me alone of those most favoring it. Still, I might yet discredit him
and salvage things... if he does not tamper with some factor of the
Force. Were he to demonstrate that it was no longer in aide of the
Alliance, he could regenerate the whole war effort. Before anything else
can be done, I must see his plan stopped. So for now I intend to keep
“But if he did
somehow tamper with the Force,” said Leia, “the Empire might win. Your
“Not mine,” he
said. “It’s clear that in the new regime Tharkus plans, not even the
vestiges of the Republic would be left. My life is forfeit now. You
heard him. I am a traitor in his eyes. Should he succeed, I and every
other senator left will be hunted down. I have no doubt of it. I know
the man too well. He is a military fanatic and totally ruthless.”
“I agree with
you there.” commented Han, making the last instrument settings. “After
the way he blasted your friends. I’d say he’s prob’ly home tryin’ to take
things over right now.”
The lone Star
Destroyer rumbled ahead through space, passing the blinking frontier
starkly appointed captain’s cabin, Tharkus and his General Kantos played
out an ancient strategy game on an antique checkered board.
high-admiral’s hand moved one of his slender chrome pieces out across the
black-and-white playing surface to tap an ebony one of his opponent. The
general’s piece toppled over.
in great jeopardy now, I think,” Tharkus said with satisfaction.
table a disgruntled Kantos picked up his fallen piece. He set it with a
dozen others lined up at one side of the board. His remaining black
players were becoming sparse indeed.
“The game is
not over,” he said stubbornly. “I have some moves to make.” In
demonstration he lifted a sinuously fluted piece and moved it ahead.
Tharkus acceded, lifting one of his chrome men. “But it’s only a matter
of time.” He set it down again. “Check, I believe. And likely
mate too. I’m afraid my trap has closed.”
and looked intently at the other man’s strategic arrangement for some way
consideration was interrupted as Captain Vaskor entered the cabin. The
officer strode up to the table, clicked his heels and saluted his
superiors smartly. Tharkus nodded acknowledgement.
we have just entered the Unknown Regions,” the captain announced.
Tharkus told him. “What new word have you received about events at home?”
“We have been
monitoring all transmissions from the Empire,” Vaskor crisply reported.
“Apparently the story is spreading quickly that the so-called peace
meeting was in fact a Rebel trap and that our senators were brutally
massacred by them.”
Tharkus. “And what is the reaction from our people?”
great outrage and there are calls from many that the truce be ended. But
some voices still argue that this would be a grave mistake. They say that
the Rebels simply want to goad us into more war so they have an excuse to
defeat us utterly. The threat of the Jedi still holds them in thrall to
“A very clear
and concise summary, Captain,” Tharkus complemented. “You may resume your
duties now. But continue the monitoring, and keep me informed of any new
Admiral!” The officer saluted again and marched out of the room.
are going as I intended,” Tharkus gloated to his general. “My agents have
spread the rumor effectively. The so-called New Republic will be
blamed for this monstrous deed. Hatred and mistrust of them will grow.
The need to strike back will be firmly planted.”
may still not follow you back into war,” Kantos pointed out. “Not if they
believe it will mean destruction.”
“But once we
have succeeded with the rest of my plan, there will be no stopping them.
They will roll across the rebel forces in a tidal wave. We must only
remove this absurd fear of the Jedi and their Force.”
co-opt its power to our side,” Kantos put in.
considering such a possibility, General?” Tharkus asked thoughtfully.
“As are you, I
think,” the other shrewdly replied. “It seems your interest in the...
possibilities shall we say? ...is growing keener. I have heard
it in your words and tone of voice.”
Perhaps,” Tharkus conceded. “I do admit that the idea has been more
active in my mind, and grows stronger as we proceed. Why not
believe I might control this Force? The Emperor did so, that much we have
established, and he was no Jedi. Just an ordinary man—or, one who began
as such. My own will is at least as strong as his, and my desire for the
common good is much stronger. Why, for the Empire’s sake alone it should
be my duty to try to make the power work for us.”
yourself?” Kantos put in. “Not to secure greater power?”
power? Yes. Of course! But not for me. For the Empire. To ensure it
is transcendent in the Universe, eternal. For such a goal, Kantos, trying
to subdue and bend the Force to my will may well be worth risking.”
“Yet, how do
you envision that such a thing can be accomplished?” the general wondered.
“For that we
must wait until we see just what the nature of this ‘Heart of the Jedi’
is,” Tharkus told him. “But if things go as I have ordered them, then we
will be able to examine the situation and determine a method at our
leisure.” He smiled. “No one must interfere with us this time.”
metal arm of C-3PO spasmed with a shrill whining of its mechanical
relaxed, then stirred slightly in a more natural move. One of its hand’s
articulated fingers quivered, then curled. The entire hand flexed, drew
into a tight fist, then opened again. Finally the whole arm lifted, bent,
and straightened again before dropping back down.
Han, Leia, and
Valladian sat close about the droid in the Falcon’s main cabin, watching
in fascination as Chewie tinkered with the metal man’s complex
mechanisms. The Wookiee was at the moment systematically working the
droid’s robotic muscles by triggering key diodes in the metal being’s open
Chewie,” Han said critically.
Chewie gave a
low growl in response and made some more adjustments.
managed to fix Threepio?” Leia asked hopefully.
paused to bark and snarl out what was for him a long answer.
‘Sorry,’” Han translated. “He’s just regaining control of motor functions
and base level intelligence. He’s leaving the higher levels strictly
out. Can’t trust ‘em. But at least we can use him as a source of
walking encyclopedia,” said Leia.
some more adjustments and flipped an internal switch. The lights of the
droid’s round glass eyes came on. Chewie nodded in satisfaction and
snapped the chest access panel closed.
all ready,” Han announced. “We should try him.”
“Let me,” said
Leia. She sat forward. “Threepio,” she said gently, “can you hear me?”
some unintelligible noises from the droid’s mouth, then words came
clearly: “I hear, Master. What is it you wish?”
The voice was
Threepio’s, but the tones were an emotionless drone. Leia tried again.
Threepio. It’s Leia. Do you remember me?”
“I am C-3PO,”
it mechanically cranked out, “human/cyborg relations. I am proficient in
over six million forms of communication. My task is to serve. What is it
you wish, Master?”
told him. “Forget it. Just take a rest.”
“Rest is not
required,” it pointed out. “As a mechanical being, I have no need for
recreation, sustenance, sexual fulfillment, or positive verbal
reinforcement, as human beings do. I am not prone to euphoria,
melancholy, love, hate, wistfulness, avarice, gluttony, sloth...”
said, shaking his head. “Shut him down.”
down, sir,” the droid said and fell instantly silent.
Leia said sadly. “There’s no personality left. He’s lost his soul.”
“He never had
one,” Han pointed out to her. “He’s a droid.”
you say,” she responded thoughtfully, “but I think he had a more living,
feeling heart than a lot of humans I’ve known, and more courage and
loyalty too. Maybe he was just a droid, but he was also our
friend. They destroyed that part of him, and I’m sorry.”
said, regret now filling his own voice, “I guess I am too. And I’m kinda
sorry for the rough way I’ve treated him in the past. Maybe I deserved
his trying to strangle me.” He patted the shoulder of the golden being in
an affectionate way. “We’ll get even for you pal,” he said with grim
sincerity, “I promise you.”
That came from Gowan, who had sat lounging in a disinterested manner
through all of this. Now he sat up, his face registering alarm. “Does
that imply that you are contemplating some possibility of our being
involved in a violent encounter with the Empire?”
“I’d sure say
it’s a possibility,” Han told him. “I mean, we’re pretty sure someone’s
after Luke. Could be just one, but it could be a dozen of ‘em too. We
don’t know. So, what’s the problem, Prince? You afraid of getting your
good clothes a little mussed? Hell, I’d be glad to lend you some old ones
of mine, ‘cept you don’t like their style.”
“What I am
afraid of is getting hurt,” Gowan retorted. “I am not a warrior. I’ve
made that very clear.”
Han said sarcastically. “You were only trained as a diplomat. Manners
Gowan said haughtily. “My life must be protected for the good of the
Alliance. My diplomatic skills...”
interrupted. “Hey, your skills won’t amount to a hill of cractus beans if
this war takes off again. Tharkus succeeds, and the Alliance’ll be
fighting for its life all over again. Valladian knows that. Don’t you?”
do,” Gowan hedged. “I just don’t see what possible good I can do you.”
“Fact is we’re
in a hurry,” Han explained. “There’s no time to put you down someplace,
and nowhere to drop you at even if we wanted. Unless you wanna be dumped
on some Imperial world.”
went on, “we may just need every hand on a blaster we can get. That
includes your lily white ones, prince boy.”
“I know. You
can’t shoot. Leia, wanna give the ambassador here some lessons in laser
“I’d be most
happy to,” she said, clearly without sympathy for the moping young man.
might show me as well?” Valladian ventured.
Senator?” Han said in surprise. “I didn’t mean that you should...”
up a staying hand. “I know, Captain. But I was a fair shot once, and
I’ve been a soldier. This is my fight too. I won’t be left out of it.”
He smiled. “And you did say ‘every hand.’”
Han smiled in
return. “You’re my kinda guy, Senator. Okay, Leia, make it
weapons-training for all.” He looked to the Wookiee. “C’mon Chewie,
let’s you and me get back up to the cockpit. I wanna be on the job when
we cross that frontier.”
away, but Leia called after him: “Han, then what?”
like I said,” he replied. “We just keep on and hope we find some kinda
feelings,” she said. “I know Luke’s out there. Right now he’s somewhere
ahead of us.”
I said, ‘so’s somebody else!’”
A door slid
aside on the rear of the Entrepreneur. From the landing bay inside
it a small shuttle craft emerged. It was a tiny version of the salvage
scow, looking rather like an infant version of the angular mother craft.
It turned to
sweep around her and then headed away, sailing across the gap of space
toward the surrounding hollow sphere of painted ships. The course it set
headed it directly for the large blossom-shaped vessel sitting dead ahead
of the scow.
shuttle’s controls was Luke Skywalker, once again venturing out alone. He
peered ahead through his front windows at the odd craft as he approached
it, taking note of the growing details.
wedge-shaped rays could now be seen as being made of transparent sheets,
tinted in various shades. When the shuttle passed directly above one of
these petal sections, he was able to look down through the flat top
surface to what was contained within. It appeared to be a piece of
countryside, a pie-slice of landscape, complete with hills, fields, and
streams, dotted with exotically shaped trees and gaudily hued plants.
like it might be on a whole planet—except for the light source. In the
sunless depths of space, an artificial illumination for growth was
supplied by massive globes suspended just below the shielding covers of
each cell. These miniature suns glowed with a variety of molten-metal
hues from a red-gold to a platinum-white, duplicating the sunlight of
various home worlds.
Ahead of him
now was the clear central dome, itself with a much larger globe of a warm
yellow blazing within its peak. Beneath the dome grew dense foliage that
was largely shades of green. He circled around the structure slowly,
spiraling in closer. On one side, at the dome’s base, he spotted a
platform projecting out from the smooth surface. A ring of pulsing lights
atop it indicated it was a landing pad.
goes,” he said determinedly to himself, and dropped the shuttle gently
down on it.
once the little ship had settled, a section of dome wall behind it slid
aside, and the platform was drawn inward. The section slid back into
place once it was fully within, enclosing the shuttle in the box of an
airlock. Luke sat, waiting patiently while a whooshing sound without told
him the chamber was pressurizing. When the sound stopped and an inner
door began to slide open, he knew it was his time to emerge.
He went to the
ship’s outer hatch, started to open it, then paused. Purposefully he
unbuckled his weapons belt, leaving blaster and lightsaber on the deck
inside before going out. He stepped up to the inner door just as it slid
fully aside, revealing his reception party.
They were a
somewhat motley looking crew. In the three dozen or so waiting there, a
wide variety of living species was represented. There were those of
reptile, mammal, bird, and insect type. Some looked quite human. Some
were so alien as to defy description.
A slim, furry,
simian-like creature of huge lustrous eyes and long curling tail
“So, you are
the one who comes as a pilgrim,” it said in a purring, breathy voice.
“But, just where have you come from?”
answer, I’d like to ask you something first,” Luke said cautiously. “Do
you hold any allegiance to the Empire?”
This raised a
resounding chorus of laughter from the lot—hoots, guffaws, cackles,
twitters, and chuckles of glee. For all their seeming differences, the
beings had that one trait alike.
says,” said the tailed one through his own giggling. “Why, my dear human,
we are all of us here fugitives from the Empire.”
“We left it to
avoid the terrible fighting,” put in another being of several limbs,
lavender scales, and a dozen compound eyes. “Many of us fled from real
destruction. More of us fled out of fear of it. Some came to escape
conscription; others were deserters from the military. But all of us hold
one belief in common: we hate war.”
a humanoid being, pushing forward. His burly body was only clad in a
short kilt, his arms and chest tattooed in broad, swirling designs. A
long mane of jet black hair fell loose about his shoulders. His manner
was a bit more aggressive than that of the rest. “Just tell us who you
are now, stranger,” he demanded. “How do we know you’re not a spy for the
“He’s not a
spy, Storm!” This remark came from a willowy young woman with flowing
white-gold hair and a long, pale-green gown. She walked boldly up to
Luke and looked closely at his face, her violet eyes probing his. Then
she looked to the black-haired man. “No,” she said with certainty.
“There is no deceit in him.”
those in the Empire too devious for even you to sense, Aislinn,”
replied the one called Storm. He grabbed hold of her elbow and gently but
firmly pulled her back behind him. Then he stepped meaningfully toward
Luke. “It’s what he could be hiding in that old junk scow that I want to
hiding anything,” Luke assured him. “My name is Luke Skywalker. I was a
member of the Alliance in rebellion against the Empire.”
“Was?” the big
man repeated. “What’s that mean?”
“The war had
already ended when I left,” he explained. “The remnants of the Empire
were fighting on, but amongst themselves mainly, and losing badly since
the Emperor was dead. The Rebellion became the Alliance of Free Planets,
and after successfully fighting off several invasions, became the New
astonishment were raised in the group at these words. Clearly this was
certain about the Emperor?” the long-tailed one asked.
“I saw him
destroyed myself,” Luke said. “With his power crumbled and the Imperial
fleet on the run, they called for a truce. So far as I know, negotiations
for a peace, under the conditions of the New Republic, are underway right
now. They may already be ended.”
a withered old man of bald head and long white whiskers. “After all this
time. Why, I’ve been hiding out here since before the Clone Wars. Don’t
even know how long it’s been.”
means you’ll finally be able to leave if you want,” Luke told him.
“You’ll be able to go home.”
“I’m not sure
it does mean that,” said the one called Storm.
“I think it’s
time that he went to see the Sky Pilot,” the long-tailed one told the
others. And, to Luke he added, “I believe that he can make all here clear
the one called Aislinn, putting out a hand to him. “Come with me. You
can trust me. I’ll lead you to him.”
disapproving but didn’t interfere as Luke took her hand and went with
her. The others followed along.
They took him
ahead into the mass of vegetation that all but filled the central dome.
It was like a captured segment of a rainforest, lifted bodily from its
original location with all elements intact. Dense tropical foliage grew
up all about them. Long vines and creepers dangled in intertwining
array. The air was dense with the humidity. The fragrant scents of
growing things and the earthy odor of plant decay blended in the heavy
the sprightly young woman along a twisting, narrow path through the
underbrush. Birds of brilliant plumage and effervescent song flew
overhead. Small, curious creatures slithered or hopped out of their way.
said Luke as they walked along, “this... ship. What is it anyway?”
“It was an
experiment to start with,” the lavender-scaled being said. “Our Sky
Pilot, himself, began it in his old life. He called it his Crusade.
He took up sections of nature from threatened planets in an attempt to
preserve as many of them as he could.”
said the long-tailed one, “each outer segment of the disc is a separate,
closed ecosystem, with a slice of its own planet intact. Atmosphere,
soil, water, wildlife, plants, all maintained just as they were. Light
duplicating that of its home sun. Even the tint of the envelope enclosing
each matches the color of its planet’s sky. Or, what was its sky for
“Some of those
fragile bits of life are now very, very rare,” Aislinn said sadly. “The
unique, beautiful ecosystems they came from have ceased to be.”
destroyed by your war,” Storm added bitterly.
Luke let the
remark pass, but it stung him no less.
“It was when
our leader saw that happening that he found he couldn’t stand it anymore,”
Storm continued. “He took what he had and fled here, hoping to save at
least this much.”
our spiritual center, our heart, our whole focus of life, really,” said
the old one.
this dome?” asked Luke. “Whose world is this?”
Pilot’s own,” said Aislinn. “And at its core is his home.”
nearly to that core now. Here grew a set of four trees, each twelve yards
thick. They rose up in a square like massive columns, the greenery of the
spreading branches at their tops brushing against the curved roof. As
Luke’s party passed near the base of one of them, he looked in amazement
at its straight, solid trunk and at the high-arching roots about the base
that buttressed its soaring mass.
trees they came into a circular cleared area at the very center of the
dome. Its floor was of beaten earth. Around its circumference was set a
circle of a dozen rough-hewn standing stones, each of man-height. In the
middle of this ring was yet another stone, shorter and squatter, its top
rounded as if worn down. A lean, copper-skinned humanoid in a white
sarong sat cross-legged beside it.
Luke and his
escorting party stopped just outside the ring. At their approach the man
seemed to have been sleeping or meditating, eyes closed, head down, hands
folded upon his lap. But as they stopped, he looked up toward them.
He had a
large, high-domed head, totally devoid of hair. His face was of a
fresh-skinned, lineless type that made his age indeterminable, though
there seemed a wisdom of uncountable years glowing in his startlingly
warmly at Luke. “Our visitor,” he said. “Welcome to our place of
“I don’t think
we should be so quick with that welcoming. We don’t know what to make of
him,” Storm said bluntly. “He says he’s from the Alliance, New Republic
they’re calling it now. Claims the war’s ending.”
friend, please,” the man asked Luke, gesturing invitingly to him.
woman released his hand, smiling encouragement. “Go on,” she said.
He nodded and
stepped past the outer stones into the ring. As he approached the man, he
glanced upward. The leafy branches of the four trees arched in and
intersected to form a natural groin vaulting high above. That and the
surrounding columns of the trunks cast the clearing in a cathedral-like
Luke stopped a
couple of paces from the man. The bright eyes studied him piercingly.
“I feel a
strange presence about you, young visitor,” he said. “What is your name?”
“Ah!” The man
seemed impressed. “There’s a name of much portent,” he said. “It’s the
name of one whose very strides may shake the entire universe. Great
ceremony indeed must have been involved in naming you.”
shrugged. “I don’t know. I was born with it. It’s a family name.”
“Then a family
of some vast purpose it must be,” the man declared. “My own birth name
was Nestor, a humble one at best. It was my people here, my new family of
homeless children, who dubbed me with the Sky Pilot title. They see me as
a sort of spiritual leader, don’t you see. A bit of priest, chieftain,
and father all rolled into one.” He smiled. “Hardly deserved, but there
it is. It’s a great responsibility.”
that,” Luke told him earnestly. “I hadn’t even really begun to think of
myself as a grown-up when I was suddenly an officer and leading men into
battle. It’s a terrible responsibility. And a lonely one.”
“But, now, you
say that war is ending,” the other said. “It must give you great relief.”
“I am glad
it’s over,” said Luke. He waved back toward the others. “But maintaining
peace is going to be everyone’s responsibility.”
seem to think that even if there’s peace in the galaxy, you won’t go
nodded. “They are right in that. The reasons are many. Some of those in
our little community no longer have homes to return to. Their dwellings,
their towns, sometimes their whole plants were consumed by the fires of
war. And then there are others who would be ostracized or even killed by
their own people should they return to them.”
“Why?” asked a
deemed dishonorable, cowardly, or treasonous by their social orders.
Those who refuse to fight in times of war, no matter what the cause, are
not often looked upon with favor.” He looked at Luke curiously. “You are
clearly intelligent and knowledgeable. I’m surprised you don’t know this
“There’s a lot
I don’t know about how things work in the galaxy,” Luke told him
ruefully. “But, you’re talking about those who refused to fight for the
as well,” the other said. “We also have those with us who have fled from
your organization, or from the threat of having to serve it.”
Luke, uncomprehendingly. “But we’re trying to free the galaxy from
tyranny. From evil.”
“There is no
greater evil than war,” said the long-tailed being from behind him, “which
is why we’ve eschewed it.”
here,” said Luke, looking around to the group. “That can’t accomplish
anything. That can’t end war. I mean, if you just drift around... well,
what purpose does that serve?”
ultimate purpose lies in your own world of strife and striving?” the Sky
back to him. “What do you mean?”
“Do you think
your efforts have eradicated war?” the man asked serenely. “You are yet
young, and idealistic, but I think you will see with your own eyes that
the ways of violence can only breed more violence; wars will erupt again
and again. But we have found something more, something that transcends
the physical realm. Something to make its tribulations unimportant by
comparison. Here, in this peaceful zone of space, we have found a new
reality, a new awareness. We have become truly free of our mundane
trappings, free to indulge our senses, to open our minds, to float
unfettered on the eternal currents of its power.”
“Yes. It is
strong here,” he eyed Luke shrewdly, “as I think you know. Understand, it
wasn’t chance that brought us all to unite in this single area of
space. We were all only seeking a place of refuge first, scattering
through the Unknown Regions. But then a sense, a feeling of the power
drew us here, consciously or not, binding us in a whole. Over the years
we’ve come to worship it and to meld with it as best we can. We have
become the Children of the Force.”
about the Force?” Luke said in astonishment.
us of sensitive or empathic characteristics understood its influence
first. We have trained the rest to do so, through methods of releasing
conscious thought, letting go, entering into the energy flow. And this
ring I have constructed,” he waved about him at the stones, “it is a place
where those attuned can come to meditate, freeing the mind yet further.
The shape of it seems to help.”
with interest on the simple configuration. “It does? How did you know it
“Its form came
to me in reverie,” the man replied. “It seemed somehow the fitting design
and construction. I’ve no idea why. But it certainly does seem to work.
The effect of the Force is much stronger on those who cast their spirits
loose within it. Even an ordinary being such as I can truly come close to
overcoming the mortal illusion of crude material reality. See here.”
He rose and
climbed atop the central stone, sitting down again on its worn top. He
put out his hands to the sides, closed his eyes, and concentrated. In
moments his body slowly levitated. It hung suspended several inches above
the stone for a few moments, then settled back.
learned how to use the Force,” Luke exclaimed, openly impressed
“In our simple
way, a few of us have, yes,” said the man, climbing down and resuming his
spot on the ground. “But we would not dare to do more. We are not
grasping for power, but content to bathe in its flow, doing as we will in
peace and pleasure.”
like an idyllic life,” said Luke.
fulfilling,” the Sky Pilot agreed. “Only fear of the Empire one day
coming after us has hung above our heads as a dark cloud. Now, it seems
even that interference with the light will be swept away. But, what of
yourself? Have you also determined to renounce your past life? Is that
why you’ve come here?”
“Say that it
is,” Aislinn told him eagerly. “I know our spirit of freedom is strong in
you. Please, join with us.”
Luke said. “It’s really tempting, but I can’t. I have to go on.”
“Go on,” their
leader said, eying him and nodding sagely. “I thought as much, my
friend. You seek the place beyond. That sacred nexus of the Force.”
about that too?” asked Luke.
We have always understood where the streams of power flowing so densely
through this part of space have their main link. It is not difficult to
sense. Our drifting on their ebbs and floods keeps us close around the
periphery of the great crossing point’s strong aura. But not too close.”
“You mean you
haven’t gone there?”
did. In the early days a few who thought their own rapport with the Force
was strong enough went to seek oneness within that hub of energy. None of
them returned. I often say that none of us is truly worthy. Besides, our
own abilities are not developed enough. We do not have the calling. So
we have declared it as a holy place, not to be violated.”
afraid that is where I have to go,” Luke told him.
“He’s a damned
desecrator.” Storm called to his leader. “He wants to profane our sacred
ground. This is a trick!”
“He was a
stormtrooper until their violence drove him away,” the Sky Pilot explained
to Luke. “His views have become mellower since he came to us. But he
still has a distrust.”
understand that,” said Luke. “But it’s no trick. I have a need to go
there. I’m a Jedi Knight.”
“A Jedi?” the
long-tailed being repeated skeptically. “They have ceased to exist. All
their knowledge is lost.”
Luke answered. “I was trained by the last two. I really am a Jedi.”
listen,” said Storm. “He’s not one of us. He’s an Alliance warrior. I
smell the blood on him.”
exchanged uncertain glances at this. The Sky Pilot considered his people
for a moment, then looked to Luke.
what you are, young man,” he said. “I feel the power in you. Perhaps if
you demonstrated to them…”
“All right.” He looked to the others. “I’ll try to show you what I am.”
out around the ring as Luke walked to its middle. He stopped by the
central stone. Lifting his hands above it, he frowned in concentration.
rock soon shivered, and then lifted bodily from the ground, hanging
suspended. Luke slowly turned around, his hands taking in the outer
stones. One-by-one they pulled loose from the ground and rose upward as
well. The watchers gasped in surprise.
But his show
was not finished. Once more he pivoted, swinging his hands around. This
time it was the people who rose upward to float a foot above the ground.
Most looked astonished as they were lifted. Aislinn laughed with
delight. Storm looked aghast.
hands passed over the Sky Pilot, raising him too.
“I knew it!”
the man cried in mixed delight and awe. “Truly, he does have the Jedi’s
of the Jedi
THE HEART OF THE JEDI
Kenneth C. Flint
Find his other books at:
See his author Facebook page at:
“Do you have
to leave us?” the woman called Aislinn asked Luke.
She and her
fellow refugees were escorting the young Jedi out the path through the
rainforest, back to his shuttle craft.
gladly turn over my leadership of this community to you,” said the Sky
Pilot, who had also accompanied them. “I am certain its people would be
most willing to follow you.”
said the long-tailed one eagerly. “We would become your own faithful
followers. Stay. You would have peace and freedom out here.”
added the lavender-scaled being. “You are the true possessor of the
spirit for which we have waited. You alone hold the secret. Allow us
learn at your feet.”
the open airlock where the shuttle sat. Luke stopped here and looked to
he said. “I can’t stay.”
“Here is a
whole new society of the faithful you could create,” the Sky Pilot pointed
what you think you want,” said Luke. “But I’m not one to be proselytizing
the Force to others. I’m no Master. I don’t really know yet if I’m even
a true Jedi, or if I even want to be. I won’t know until I go there.”
might never return,” Aislinn said with concern
said the Sky Pilot with confidence. “He may not have full belief in his
powers, but I do. He is a Jedi. And I hope that when he too feels
secure in that identity, he will come and join with us, to lead us.”
finished,” said Luke, “once it’s resolved, then I’ll decide what I want to
do. Until then I can’t say anything to you but good-bye. May the Force
be with you.”
peace and love go with you,” said Aislinn earnestly. She stepped up to
kiss him lightly on the cheek.
“I sense dark
tendrils of dilemma entangling your soul,” added the Sky Pilot. “I hope
they may be dispelled by the light of the Force.”
out a hand to Luke. “I too hope you get your answers, Skywalker,” the
ex-Imperial soldier said, now in a more accepting tone, “like I’ve found
“I envy you
that,” Luke told him sincerely. He took Storm’s hand and they exchanged a
away into the lock, paused to wave back to them, then headed for the
ship. As he climbed into the shuttle’s hatch, the inner door of the
airlock slid closed behind him.
gathering of the children of the Force watched as the outer door opened
and the landing platform slid out of the dome’s side. They continued to
watch, regret in their eyes, as the shuttle lifted and flew away, back
toward the salvage scow. And they were still watching some while later
when the scow’s engines fired and the square craft moved ahead, sailing
away from the huge caravan of painted ships and out of sight.
“Come on, my
friends,” the Sky Pilot then said to the others. “Let us return to the
center ring. There we can pray together for our young Jedi’s success.”
The light beam
shot from the blaster’s muzzle, missed the floating sphere of the remote
target by a good distance, and ricocheted harmlessly from a control panel
in the Millennium Falcon’s lounge.
Leia sighed in
she said. “You’re holding it too tight.” She stepped to the man who
stood with the weapon in hand, looking helpless. She adjusted his grip on
its butt. “There. And don’t jerk the trigger. Squeeeeeze it!
Slow and steady. Okay? Ready?” She looked to the floating sphere,
ordering, “Again, remote!”
The ball once
more began to zig and zag around in the cabin, no more than two yards away
He tried to
get a bead on it. He fired.
The shot went
wide again. It hit the edge of the doorway to the cockpit corridor just
as Han Solo was coming through. The light bolt bounced away only inches
from his face. He flinched back.
watch it!” he cried, hands lifted in defense.
“It was just a
target practice beam,” she told him. “It can’t hurt you.”
“Oh. Sure. I
knew that,” he said quickly, straightening up and coming on in. “So,
how’s our boy doing?”
hopeless, I’m afraid,” Leia told him.
“Well, I’m so
sorry,” Gowan said indignantly. “I did warn you.”
the Senator?” asked Han, looking toward the older man who sat by watching
Gowan’s display with open amusement.
smiled. “I’ll show you.” He got up from his seat, took the blaster from
Gowan, and assumed a shooter’s stance, weapon ready. “Again, remote!” he
sphere moved. So did the gun. Its beam zapped the remote five times in
quick succession as it ducked around the room. Valladian lowered the
blaster and looked to Han.
“Not bad for
an old man, eh?” he said with a note of pride.
shabby for anyone,” said an impressed Han. “Whaddaya think, Princey?” he
in irritation but didn’t answer.
Han, “I gotta tell you all, we just passed the frontier. We’re in the
Unknown Regions now. Trouble is, how do we find Luke from here?” He
looked to Leia. “Time for that next step, Sweetheart.”
“I’m not sure
I can tell you what it is,” she said. “Let’s go forward where I can see
outside. Maybe that’ll help.”
me?” asked Gowan.
practicing,” she told him. “Senator, why don’t you try and teach
he said. And, as Han and Leia went out, they heard Valladian begin the
lesson in a lecturing tone. “All right, my boy, just relax now. Try to
lead your target a little...”
ever catch on?” Han asked her as they went up the corridor.
She shook her
head. “I doubt it. Well, maybe if a squad of stormtroopers stood right
in front of him he might hit one.”
with his great diplomacy skills he can convince ‘em to kill themselves,”
he suggested. “With a blaster I don’t know if he’d be a bigger threat to
them or us.”
They came into
the cockpit. Chewbacca was alone at the controls.
I’m back,” said Han. “How’s it goin’?”
gave a terse “all right” snarl.
stayin’ on a straight heading right into it,” Han explained to Leia as he
settled into his seat. “But that ain’t gonna get us anywhere unless we’re
the luckiest fools in the galaxy. So, what about it, Leia? Where do you
think we should we go?”
down onto a seat behind him, but she didn’t reply.
minute, he repeated: “Anything?”
said, looking around. “Leia?”
stiffly on the seat, eyes open and staring fixedly ahead. She seemed
almost to be in some form of trance.
and looked around at her too, then barked a question.
cautioned him. “I think she’s got something.”
He and the
Wookiee watched her expectantly for several moments. At last she blinked
and shook her head, coming back to life.
“Let me take
the controls,” she said determinedly to Han, standing and moving up to
fly?” he said in surprise.
“If we want to
find Luke,” she said, “yes. I’ll have to steer us by feel.”
“You can feel
faintly. And it comes and goes.” She met his gaze with an oddly intense
one. “Han, there’s something else out there. Something big. Luke’s
headed for it.”
sure. It’s got to do with the Force, that much I can sense. I may not be
able to stay with him, but I can certainly home in on it. It’s almost
like… I can hear it.” She hesitated, struggling with the vague concept.
“Like something calling me.”
conceded, getting up from the pilot’s chair and offering it to her.
“What’ve we got to lose?”
said grimly, settling into the seat.
then,” Captain Thatch said to his chief work droid he nicknamed Mack.
“Just check the power converter and the primaries over good. Make sure
there are no leaks. Can’t afford to be losing any more energy.”
Captain,” the droid replied snappily, then turned and flashed out through
the bridge door.
anything else I can do to help?” offered Luke. “I’m pretty good with
“No,” the Ewok
said. “Not a good idea here. That H-K engine’s getting pretty old. A bit
too much loose radiation in that core for the likes of us. Leave it to
Mack. He’ll check it out all right. I don’t think there’s any damage.
Still, I also didn’t think the run-in with that cruiser would deplete the
primary cells so far. Sorry.”
“Nothing to be
sorry for,” Luke assured. “But, you’re positive we can still make it
safely... and get back?”
generator will handle that easily, so long as we keep our speed at a
quarter sublight. You’re certain you wouldn’t rather turn ‘round and find
a spot to recharge?”
“If we don’t
need to, yes I am,” Luke said decisively. “It would take longer to do
that then to go on, no matter how slow. Besides,” he added, looking
intently out into the space ahead, “I’m too close now. The pull of
whatever’s out there is very strong. I’ve got to find out what it is.
I’ve got to get this finished.”
no argument from me, mate,” said the Ewok. He consulted his navigational
instrument readouts. “And you’re right. We are getting close to that
spot of yours. We’ve come near half the distance from that fleet of
vagabonds to your coordinates.” He looked to Luke. “Are you certain you
want me taking you all the way in now? What about this great secret you
said it was?”
seem to be much of one anymore, does it?” Luke said. “No reason for you
not to know about it too. But I have to go to the actual place by
myself. It would be dangerous for you.”
content to let you go alone,” Thatch assured. “Well then, might as well
settle back for a while and rest. He glanced at the rather tensed looking
Luke and smiled. “Or, rest as much as you can, anyway.”
“I can wait,”
said Luke, visibly forcing himself to relax. He even smiled a little in
return. “After all, it’s not like anyone’s chasing me.”
on the bridge!” a junior officer announced as Tharkus stepped onto the
deck of the warship’s control room.
“What is this
news that drags me from my sleep, Captain?” he asked irritably, striding
out to the front view-windows where Vaskor stood.
you’d want to know at once, Sir. We’ve completed the final calculations
from the new data. We’ve pinpointed the exact location to which Skywalker
is heading. I’ve had our own course plotted for it.”
“Can we get to
this spot in time?” demanded Tharkus.
certainly we can now, Admiral. Of course we’ve only been able to use
limited hyperdrive in this uncharted region of space. Our astrogation
charts are vastly incomplete and the risk of collision is too great.
Still, at sublight we should have no difficulty.”
“Then make it
so at once, Captain. Set course.”
officer approached to interrupt.
Captain. We’ve picked up the blips of a great many ships. Hundreds in
said Vaskor in surprise, turning to him. “Who are they?”
idea, Sir. The ships are mostly small, but quite densely packed. They’ve
formed up in a screen right across our course. They’ll be coming into
visual range in a few seconds.”
At that same
moment, aboard the bioship, a loud voice was speaking up, echoing about in
the dome from loudspeakers on all sides of it:
are you there?”
The leader and
a group of his followers seated at meditation in the central ring of
stones looked up, their concentration broken. The Sky Pilot raised his
voice to call back. “Yes. What is it?”
here. We’ve had word from some of the ships. Their sensors are picking
up a vessel.”
Skywalker’s ship coming back?”
one. Much larger. Wait, it looks like an Imperial Star Destroyer!”
Destroyer?” said Storm. “Could they finally be coming in here after us?”
“Be calm,” the
Sky Pilot advised. “After so long ignoring us, why would they wish to do
that now? The war has ended, remember?”
it is an emissary of the new peace,” the long-tailed one suggested.
“Shall we have
the ships scatter?” the voice from the speakers asked.
“No,” said the
leader. “As children of peace, I think we should meet them.”
On the Star
Destroyer, Tharkus was now peering ahead through the bridge window. The
sparkling dots of the many ships were now becoming visible against the
black, so thick they seemed like a summer night’s swarm of fireflies.
“Order a full
stop, Captain,” he ordered. “Let’s not do anything rash.”
command, the Star Destroyer slowed to hang dead in space. They were close
enough to the strange fleet for individual ships to be discerned now, and
Tharkus stared out at the gaudily painted craft curiously.
“Why are they
marked that way?” he asked. “Have we stumbled into a restricted zone for
the insane?” He pointed out the flower-shaped one right ahead. “Look at
that monstrosity. Wholly unsuited for deep-space.”
coming in, High Admiral,” said an officer at the communications console.
the captain stepped to him. They listened as a voice came over the
Imperial ship. We welcome you in the name of the new peace.”
said Vaskor. “What would they know of that?”
said Tharkus with certainty. “He must have been here. He must have told
not with them, Sir,” the captain pointed out.
gone on and left this barrier in our path. But just who are they? There
could certainly be more than enough firepower on a fleet that size to give
us a hot fight.”
As if in
direct answer to his concerns, the voice spoke again: “Imperial ship,
please respond. You have entered a realm that is not part of the Empire
or Alliance. You will not be harmed. Those of us who live here are
conscientious objectors from across the galaxy, seeking only to live in
damned shirkers,” Tharkus declared. “Cowards hiding away out here. Now
they think they can come to us and beg our understanding?”
reports coming in, High Admiral,” said another officer. “They are
“What, all of
them?” asked an unbelieving Tharkus.
“Yes sir. We
can’t detect a single weapon on any ship.”
There are some which would likely have carried armaments, but even they
have none. It seems likely they were stripped.”
fools,” Tharkus spat out contemptuously. “They’ve left themselves
ship, we welcome you,” the voice came again, “if you’ve come in peace.
Otherwise, we recommend that you depart back to Imperial Space.”
high admiral said tersely, “we’ve no time to waste here. Wipe that
useless vermin from our way!”
On the bioship,
the Sky Pilot and the group of his followers with him looked out through
the dome to the stationary wedge of the big battleship.
wrong,” said Storm uneasily. “They’re still not acknowledging our
“I... I feel
something dark from them,” said his leader, looking to the ex-warrior in
alarm. “Storm, they’re not here for peace. They mean to destroy us!
They’re are after Luke... after the Force itself. Get our ships out of
here,” the amplified voice boomed across the dome in its urgency. “Sky
Pilot, they’re bringing weapons to bear!”
room,” shouted Storm, “tell all the ships to...”
warning was too late. A torrent of fire erupted from the man-of-war as
all its batteries unleashed a simultaneous salvo.
The bolts of
emerald turbolaser fire flashed into the mass of ships packed so close
together that almost every shot was a hit. A score of the painted craft
exploded, some taking out others close by with their swelling balls of
flame and debris.
fire continued furiously. The small ships, taken off guard, stayed put
for fatal, long moments as more and more were hit. The whole zone of
space became a brilliant fireworks display of bursting fireballs.
On the bioship
they looked up through the dome in horror at the chaos all around them.
“Why are they
doing this?” the Sky Pilot cried out in agony. “We wouldn’t have harmed
them. My people. My children...”
the shock, he dropped to his knees.
“Sky Pilot, we
can’t stay here,” Storm called to him, with no effect. He dragged the man
up and shook him, trying to get through. “Sky Pilot, we’ve got to get
“I was mad,”
the broken man said, heedless of him. “I was mad to think that there
could ever be any peace with them.”
beam slammed into an outer petal. It took out the entire segment in a
single explosion, sending a dense plume of container shards and shredded
foliage spurting away. The stricken vessel was sent spinning wildly,
careening through the rest of the fleet out of control.
Another of its
petals sliced into a small ship, ripping away the section’s end as it
destroyed the vessel. Atmosphere, plants, ground, water, animals—all were
blossom of the bioship spun on, sweeping out of the fire zone and away
into the black.
Behind it, the
rest of the ships still able were finally scattering. They shot away in
all directions, leaving the debris and broken hulks of hundreds of vessels
drifting in space.
of the man-of-war fired on for a time, methodically blasting any ships
which still looked intact into blazing particles. Then they fell silent.
still within range have been destroyed, Sir,” Captain Vaskor reported to
his high admiral on the bridge.
Tharkus told him. “Did any of them escape?”
“A few dozen,
Sir. No more.”
the high-admiral told him haughtily. “Their time will come too, Vaskor.
When we control the galaxy, we will not leave one of such weak-minded
beings alive. Now, take us ahead, Captain,” he ordered. “We have a
Falcon picked its way carefully through the wide-scattered field of
blasted ships and drifting debris.
certainly didn’t do this!” said Leia, still at the Falcon’s controls.
“No,” said Han
from the co-pilot’s seat. He was consulting their sensor readouts on the
wrecks. “This whole bunch couldn’t have been much of a threat. From the
scans I’d say most of ‘em were pretty small ships. Whatever did this had
‘em way outgunned!”
In the seat
behind him, Chewbacca gave a sharp bark and pointed out the window on the
Chewie?” said Han, peering out. “Oh yeah. There’s somethin’ a lot bigger
over there. Leia, go that way. But, be careful.”
guided the ship through the obstacle course of debris, closing in on the
spot. As they drew close they could see that it was a large,
blossom-shaped craft with a clear dome at its center. Two of the petal-
like outer sections had been badly damaged. Several others were cracked
or had fragments torn away.
wounded craft clustered a few score of other, small, brightly-painted
ships, looking most forlorn now. They were the only survivors of the
once-huge refugee fleet. At the approach of the Falcon, many of these
fled abruptly like startled fish. A few boldly stood by the larger ship.
“Who are you?”
a suspicious man’s voice snapped from the communications speaker.
“Take it easy
there,” Han replied. “We’re friends. What the hell happened to you?”
“We were hit
by an Imperial Star Destroyer,” the voice said.
Destroyer?” Han said, exchanging an alarmed glance with Leia.
attacked for no reason,” the angry voice went on. “We were harmless. We
thought there was an armistice.”
said Han regretfully. “Not today. But who are you and why are you way
“We came here
to escape the war,” the man replied, giving a short laugh of irony.
“Funny, huh? My name is Storm.”
was now in the bioship’s main dome, responding to Han’s voice over the
comm system as he looked out toward the hovering Falcon. At the same time
he was kneeling beside the form of the Sky Pilot.
man, seemingly asleep, lay with his head cradled in Aislinn’s lap. A few
other survivors of their group stood watching or tended to fellow beings
hurt in the attack. The bodies of several more had been placed in a neat
Most of the
damage here had been done by the violent spinning the bioship had gone
through. Much had been torn loose and hurled around. Two of the large
center trees were canted over sharply. A third had been cast down. And
damage to the integrity of the big ship itself was made evident by the
ominous creaks and groanings of its stressed structural members.
we’d like to help you,” came Han’s voice, “but we’ve kinda got an urgent
job of our own. Maybe even more urgent now. This Star Destroyer,
you don’t know where it was going, do you?”
thinks it was following someone named Luke.”
“That’s what I
was afraid of. See, this Luke, he’s our friend. We came here to help
him. Do you know where he’s gone?”
Storm. “He came and he left. I’ve no idea where he went.”
called a weak voice.
He looked down
to see that the Sky Pilot was awake, though very weak. The older man’s
skin was pale and his breath rasped in his throat.
advised. “You’re pretty broken up inside.”
matter... now,” the man gasped out. “They are friends of... of the Jedi.
They must be helped.”
help them,” said Storm. “We’ve got to see to you, repair the bioship,
save what ecosystems we still can.”
The Sky Pilot
shook his head. “No,” he said in a faltering but still firm voice. “Not
important...now. The whole galaxy is at stake. All... life. Mu...must...help.”
His body went
suddenly limp, his head falling back on Aislinn’s lap. She bowed her head
over him and wept.
folded the dead leader’s hands upon his chest. Then he arose, speaking
out resolutely to Han:
to a planet strong in the Force. It’s not far from here. If you mean to
save your friend, we will help you.”
floating pinwheel?” Han’s voice replied skeptically. “Sorry friend.
You’re unarmed and pretty damaged. Best thing for you is just to save
yourselves. Good Luck. We’re all gonna need it.”
With that, the
Millennium Falcon moved ahead, sweeping around the bioship and heading on
into the sector.
it vanish from sight. Then he looked down to Aislinn.
“You and the
rest have got to evacuate,” he told her.
She turned her
tear-streaked face up to him. “What about you?”
hardened in grim resolution. “I’m going after them.”
there?” asked Luke, coming back onto the Entrepreneur’s bridge with R2-D2
the Ewok replied. “Get any more sleep this time?”
“No. I’m too
keyed up,” said Luke, shaking his head in a troubled way. “And I just
can’t forget that strange, sharp feeling I had a few hours ago. It was
like voices screaming out to me. Like something was grabbing and shaking
my brain. And that sudden sense of dread! It’s still with me.”
most likely,” Thatch said dismissingly. “Your mind playing tricks. It’s
natural the whole thing’s getting to you.”
said, still with some uncertainty. “I have been feeling the Force so
strongly. I suppose its power could be confusing things.”
now,” said the Ewok, pointing ahead. “We’re here.”
scow was just sailing in a wide curve past a smallish yellow sun and
swinging in toward a single planet that hung in space beyond it. From a
nondescript grayish pebble it swiftly grew and resolved to what looked
like a gleaming marble of blue swirled across with white.
As they came
yet closer, the true nature of the planet could be seen.
Luke breathed in awe, all other concerns forgotten. “At last!”
“Looks to me
like you might have just a bit of trouble landing there, mate,” was
Captain Thatch’s more practical comment.
appeared to be a water planet.
Nearly all of
the world’s surface was covered by a single great sea of deep blue-green.
It was a smooth and clean and sparkling surface, save where the lines of
moving white clouds and the grayer bands of storm fronts marked it in
swirling abstract designs.
At first those
observing from the approaching salvage scow saw no signs of land. But as
the vessel swept in and around the globe, one small patch of brown and
green came into view.
something,” declared Luke excitedly. “Put her into orbit above that.”
readily obeyed, and soon the square craft was drifting high above the
single spot as the two scrutinized it carefully with both eyes and
The area below
was an island of nearly circular shape. Indeed, it was so close to a
perfect circle that it seemed unlikely for nature alone to have been the
creator. It appeared to be constructed mostly of rock, trusting up for a
uniform height above sea level, completely flat on top. There was no
vegetation visible except for a ragged fringe of green around the shore
unusual appearance of the land was eclipsed by the construction which sat
It looked to
be part massive fortress and part maze. A thick outer rampart rose a
hundred feet high and formed a ring miles around. Within the space
enclosed were several other concentric bands of wall, each of these broken
at irregular intervals around its circumference by openings. This created
a vast labyrinth about a single, central feature.
overhead that feature appeared a quite primitive artifact. Its
construction was simple. Four huge, flat slabs of stone had been upended,
with another larger one laid over the top as a roof. Surrounding this
structure, and forming the inmost ring of the entire complex, was a circle
of twelve tall and monolithic stones.
“Just like the
Sky Pilot’s ring,” Luke murmured to himself as he looked at this. “He
must have sensed the shape. The Heart must be there.”
name of the place where I’m supposed to go,” Luke said vaguely, still
preserving the secret of the Heart’s power. “It’s got to be down there.”
safe enough for you to go there, planet-wise,” said Thatch, consulting his
instruments. “Breathable atmosphere. Nothing poisonous in the water.
Not even any dangerous beasts or plants. Only sea-life, so far as I
can tell.” He peered down again at the huge structure. “Wonder what
became of the ones who built that thing.”
“I have a
feeling they never lived here,” said Luke. “Well, I might as well go
R2-D2 squeaked and whistled to get his attention.
he said. “No, I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
At this the
little droid tootled and bleeped adamantly. There was no mistaking its
“What’d he say
then?” asked the Ewok.
“That if I’m
going to be killed, then he’s going to get killed too. He is coming along
this time, and I can’t stop him.”
strong streak of stubbornness for a machine,” Thatch observed.
“Yes. And of
friendship too. I guess he’s earned the right to have his way.” He
patted the droid. “Okay, Artoo. You come along. And, thanks.”
afterward the scow’s shuttle was sailing down toward the planet, this time
with the droid beside Luke as he piloted them in.
to be one beach-like area,” Luke noted as they dropped closer to the
island. “Down over there, on the south side. It’s the only place that
looks different. And look! I think there are ships parked there. Better
check that first.”
the shuttle in and brought it to a gentle touchdown just above the sands
of a wide beach. He and Artoo went out of the craft and stood, looking
inland first. Some two hundred yards across a stretch of the brownish
rock loomed the high, curved, outer wall of the structure. From where
they were it seemed to be unbroken. Between it and the beach were
scattered half a dozen other small space craft. From the heavy weathering
effects on their outer hulls, they were clearly long abandoned.
“Must be the
ships of the other ones the Pilot told us about,” said Luke.
He turned to
look at the beach. It was both wide and deep, sloping gradually down to
the lapping waves. Its pink-white sands were very fine and absolutely
pristine. No speck of refuse, no smear of oil, not even a footprint
sure bet there’s no civilized world with a beach this clean,” he said.
“Thatch was right. Nobody could be living here, Artoo.”
high, chattering sort of sound caught his attention. His eyes went to its
source. Something had broken surface in the waves just off the shore.
And it appeared to be some kind of head.
jerked rapidly up and down, and he heard more chattering. Though it was
only unintelligible noise, Luke found the sense of it sounding in his head
like spoken words.
Angorathea,” came clearly to him in soft, polite, cultivated tones.
you,” Luke said aloud to the head.
chattering came from it, and he heard: “Of course you can. The power
field here allows for that, but only for ones such as you.”
down the beach to the water’s edge. He looked curiously out at the
creature. He could see from there that the head was smooth and rounded,
covered with shiny, grey-blue skin. Tiny dark eyes showed on each side of
a long, blunt snout. A lipless mouth beneath it stretched back and up in
what seemed a grin, showing him rows of small teeth. Then it spoke again.
“It has been
long since anyone has come here,” Luke heard. “You have the Force strong
“Who are you?”
vanished, but a moment later reappeared, shooting up full from the water
in a spectacular leap. A sleek, fishlike body glinted in the sun. Luke
glimpsed the broad tail, side flippers, and top dorsal fin which were its
propulsion. Then it splashed back into the waves.
“I and my kind
are the sole intelligent denizens of this world,” it explained after its
head surfaced again. “We have been here since its creation. We have
grown with it, affected by the power focused here. The Force is part of
us now, as we are part of it.”
“Did you build
that?” Luke asked, waving back toward the structure.
“The Temple of
the Heart? No. It was the first of the Je’daii who did that long ago.
We build nothing, nor do we need to. We live at one with the sea. It
supplies all our needs. We have no interest in the land.”
“But you know
why I’m here,” he said.
You seek the Heart for answers, as so many others have before you.”
“Can you tell
me how those others got in?”
“Only your own
heart can open the doorway for you. If that heart is enough attuned to
the one which beats within the ring, you will win your way inside. If
Luke finished. “Do you know what happens to those who fail?”
come. Some we talk to. They go to the temple. Some even manage to get
inside. We have observed that the portal remains open after they enter.
We believe that it stays so for as long as they stay alive. Sometimes it
closes soon after they go in. Sometimes it takes days. But the door
always closes eventually, leaving them inside.”
those who succeed?” Luke asked. “I mean, does anyone ever come back out?”
were many of those who entered and returned. Those with the Force strong
in them. But such have not visited in many years. Only those who have
failed. Their craft from space litter the shore, as you see.”
“There was a
war,” Luke explained. “Most of the Jedi are dead.”
“Yes, that we
have been told.”
contemplated the temple and the abandoned ships again, then looked back to
the creature. “I don’t suppose you can tell me why it is they didn’t just
fly in there.”
“That I do
know. As it was created, the Temple’s great energies create a shield
above it that no mortal power can penetrate. There is but one way in, and
only a true Jedi will can find it.”
“I guess it’s
my turn to try,” he said. “Thank you for your help.”
“I will wait
and hope for your success,” it replied.
back up the beach to the rocky ground where the droid waited.
Artoo,” he told it, and marched determinedly toward the temple, the droid
He reached the
high, blank wall. He ran a hand across the stone. It seemed somehow to
be composed of a single, unbroken piece. No faintest crack, no hidden
hinge, no tiniest mark of any kind hinted at a door.
problem, Artoo,” said Luke. “How do we get in there?”
of the sea creature, sharp and urgent this time arose behind him. He
looked around to see that it was leaping high out of the water, as if to
attract him. Then it suddenly darted away, diving beneath the waves and
In the place
where it had been, something peculiar was happening.
to the surface in swiftly growing quantities, until they roiled to a white
froth. Then something broke through the water, rising upward into view as
the waves fell away on all sides.
lifted thirty feet of its form clear of the sea to reveal a vast, rounded
back, like that of a mechanized turtle with an armored shell of metal
plates. From its front end protruded a broad, head-like section, squared
off and angular. The twin barrels of a turbolaser turret protruded from
the top of its flat skull. The bulging eyes on the head’s sides were the
windows of the machine’s control compartment. Figures could be seen
behind them, peering out. They wore black uniforms and helmets.
Swimmer!” gasped Luke.
He looked to
his ship. It was now closer to the heavily armed Imperial monster than to
him. He looked left and right, checking desperately for another avenue of
the curve of wall on either side charged a squad of stormtroopers to
surround him, their blasters at the ready.
rebel,” one snarled, “drop the weapons. No tricks, or you’ll be
around at the bristling wall of guns defiantly and crouched, fingers near
his weapons as if ready to fight. But the impossibility of success
against such odds decided him otherwise. With a sigh of resignation he
straightened, slowly loosened his belt, and let it fall.
trooper scooped it up.
the first one, prodding Luke roughly with the butt of his rifle, “down to
With men close
behind him and at the sides, Luke was herded down across the sand to the
water’s edge. He was halted there.
submersible AT-AT Luke had called a “Swimmer” sat just offshore, its broad
head hanging close above the surf. Luke gazed up toward it, his
expression one of curiosity over what was to happen now.
He hadn’t long
to wait. A hatch on the head’s top cracked and swung wide open. A figure
emerged, climbing up to stand on a small platform high atop the crown. It
was a tall man of haughty demeanor clad in an officer’s uniform. He
stared down at the helpless figure of Luke with a grin of supercilious
He made the word sound like something obscene. “So we have found you at
“Who are you?”
“My name is
High Admiral Tharkus,” he supplied.
“And just what
are you doing, High Admiral?” asked Luke. “There’s supposed to be a
Tharkus gave a
condescending laugh. “Poor boy. I’m afraid that little hope of yours has
been doomed... by me. And, once I have finished here, the Alliance will be
finished as well. Of course, for that we should thank you. After all,
you led us to this place.”
repeated in disbelief. “No. That’s impossible. You couldn’t have
“How naïve you
are,” Tharkus said, shaking his head. “Of course we could. With a bit of
down at the open hatch. A second figure emerged, its furry ears and broad
head appearing first, then the chubby bear-like form as it clambered up
onto the platform.
said in shock.
figure spread its arms. Instantly, an azure glow rose around it,
obscuring its squat shape in a bright cocoon of absorbed energy. Within
the light, the shadowy form grew elastic, stretching taller, growing thin.
the light was fading. A scrawny humanoid of translucent flesh and
blue-white coloring now stood there. He smiled down at Luke.
“My real name
is Pollux,” the being said.
bolt burst against the outer wall of the Jedi temple.
It came from
one of two squat portable weapons that had been set up near the wall.
Crews of specially armored stormtroopers were directing individual shots
against the stone under the direction of General Kantos.
He stepped up
to examine the wall after the last shot. Though it was seemingly
constructed of ordinary rock, no slightest chip or scorch mark indicated
that the massive energy impact had had an effect.
He shook his
head and stepped back to the crew. “Still nothing. Try a bit higher,” he
instructed. “And boost the power.”
Down on the
shore, standing below the looming head of the AT-AT Swimmer, Tharkus
watched the work with Luke and the being called Pollux. A dozen more
stormtroopers stood around the young Jedi with ready guns. The high
admiral was taking no chances.