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A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away...

Original Image: Oba Dunimea
Edited by Wolf



Table of Contents

Preface; Alderaan by FLATTOP

Not The Show You Were Looking For - by BattleDog

Knight's Tale - by Knight

Truth Seeker by Dragon

A Spacer's Indifference by Bulldog

Reluctant Rebel - by Dobber

Learning the Truth by Talon

The Disaster by Wolf

Rogue's Tale - by Rogue

When it Rains - by Lock, Gremlin & Frosty

Quiet Peace - by Angel












  Preface: Alderaan

It wasn't really strange at all,
The night our tale begins -
Our subject in his cups o'erheard
Strange news in his dank inn.
'T'was something 'bout that Alderaan,
How it was there no more;
The Empire'd shot it into dust -
That's what one spacer swore:

"'Tis not just me!" the spacer swore,
"Ask anyone with half a brain,
Or navicomp, or sensor suite,
Who's gone an' back again!
"The planet's GONE!" - his audience gasps -
"And we know where the blame belongs!
The Empire's got a planet-doom;
Where will it strike? How long? How wrong!"

"Avast there, brainless knave, and still thy gums
Which flap and insult heart and mind - and nose!"
Another spoke, "Thou may'st indeed thy chums
Impress with tall-tales fanciful, who knows?
But know, thou stainèd rube, and gape for fear:
If reverend Emp'ror, wise and knowing all,
Determines thus to do for any here
In his galactic realm, what wherewithal
Can mortal man enjoin in fruitless pride?
If Alderaan inspired his wrath, then just,
Correct, and swift the sentence is; deride
Not all that streams down from his throne, but trust.
If into asteroids the planet's gone,
Then truly short-lived was this 'Rebel Dawn.'"

"They were but for peace
And now liberty's chorus
Sounds the void - breathless."

This last was an Ithorian,
Though swiftly shouted down.
Perhaps his words in stereo
Engendered someone's frown:
For there was one more orator
Who stood to have his say,
Our subject, though in cups he was,
Remembered it alway:

"Peace is not possible; Palpatine ends it:
Crushes it curtly, curses resistance.
Be wary of word-hoards that weaken, unman you;
The Emperor's power is all he pursues.
And so there will rise up resistors and rebels,
Mothers and Fathers no warriors, they.
Unwilling to let illegitimate leaders
Own their own kin, soul and body and oath.
Mark me, Corellians, make sure you catch this:
There is a choice that not choosing, it's chosen.
Ensure your ships are in shape, engines warming,
Beat them to the brawl or be beaten, and fall."

Past this there was confusion, so
Our subject found the door.
Outside his head was just as full
As it had been before.
But one thing hadn't changed e'en if
Old Alderaan was ash:
He had to get to work next morn
And keep on slinging hash.


What's that? Our subject's not at all
What you would first expect?
I'm sure that now he would agree
His choices weren't correct.
But it is not his story whole,
Just one brief piece, in part:
A foreword to a preface to
An intro to a start.












  Not The Show You Were Looking For
By BattleDog

The Modular Conveyor Tramper One cruised slowly through space en route from Istmorria to Outreme. The inter-system journey between the two planets could have been accomplished in a matter of hours with a five minute microjump through Hyperspace but that would have used up valuable exotic matter and anyway the ship would have been held up for hours at the dock when it arrived. So instead, Tramper One lumbered along at a leisurely 5 MGLT on a journey that would take roughly five standard days.

Onboard, the ship's chrono read 0200 and most of the crew were asleep in their bunks. On the bridge, flight engineer Sigurd Stormhand yawned and took another sip of his hot chocolate. The smooth, sweet liquid tickled his tongue and slipped easily down his throat, the slightly bitter aftertaste helping to keep him awake without the hard edge of Caf. Sigurd pinched his nose with tiredness and put down the manual for the new E-170 he had been reading, as the words began to swim slightly in front of him. Turning to R2-C0K1, plugged into the console beside him, Sigurd coughed and stifled another yawn, "Hey, Chunky, let's see what's on the Holo-Net, shall we?"

The droid whistled, a translation appearing on the boxy screen welded to the front of his dome, There is a documentary on the origin and development of moss painting starting on the Alderaanian Transmission Network in four minutes.

"Perfect, put it on." Sigurd turned his chair towards the holo projector and settled back as the programme started. About twenty minutes in, just as one of the talking head "experts" was making a hash of explaining in the first four epochs of the art, the feed suddenly stuttered and cut out. Sigurd sat up straight and blinked, "Hey, did our transceiver just fail?"

The Astromech trilled a negative, We are still receiving transmissions from other stations, it responded. To prove the point Chunky flicked the channel over to the local system-wide news feed, which was still running coverage of the disbanding of the Imperial Senate on a loop.

Sigurd frowned, the reports that ISB had found a widespread Seperatist conspiracy within the Senate had been shocking, but the complete dismissal of the elected government by the Emperor, with no new elections planned, still sat uneasily with him. "Ok," he said, "run a full diagnostic on our transceiver to be sure and scan the 'Net for any news from Alderaan. It's probably just a relay going down." That shouldn't be possible, this close to the Core, though, should it? Chunky beeped an affirmative and his photo-receptor dimmed slightly as he devoted himself to searching the Holonet for news.

Sigurd sat pensively for the next half hour, watching the news on loop. He went to take a sip of hot chocolate only to discover the liquid had cooled and congealed into a soggy mess at the bottom of his mug, he grimaced. Just then Chunky beeped urgently, before Sigurd could even look at the droid's translator the station abruptly cut it's coverage, momentarily displaying Breaking News before the image transitioned to the local morning anchor, an older woman with grey-streaked blonde hair. She wore an unreadable expression, clearing her throat twice before finally speaking, "We have now received confirmed reports of a catastrophic event in the Alderaan System. Precise details are still coming in but the Imperial Navy's Galactic Survey has confirmed that a celestial collision has occurred and..."

Sigurd tried to process what he was hearing, Alderaan was gone, the newswoman was saying it had been completely destroyed, the planet physically obliterated by some freak impact. He began to shiver uncontrollably, like his insides were being turned to ice, his chest suddenly felt like a rigid cage, as though his ribs and all his bones had turned to cold durasteel. After a couple of minutes Sigurd swallowed back the bile in his throat and gained enough control of himself to say, "We'd better wake Captain Farstar."

Not trusting himself to operate the internal comms, Sigurd waited for Chunky to make the connection. After a few moments, he heard the captain's voice, still thick with sleep, "This had better be frelling important, son." Sigurd suddenly found he couldn't draw a breath to speak. "Hello?" called the captain, now sounding genuinely annoyed. "You frelling woke me up Stormhand, what is it?"

Sigurd forced air into his lungs and keyed the com, "Sir, you had better come to the bridge. Uh... something has happened. It's best you come right away, sir."

The captain cursed again and the line cut off. Ten minutes later he stomped onto the bridge, wearing yesterday's rumpled clothes. He scowled until he saw the look on the younger man's face. "What is it?" he asked, almost gently.

Sigurd gestured wordlessly at the holo display, still showing the local news feed and the headline, "ALDERAAN DESTROYED". The captain's mouth worked, Sigurd saw it open, once, twice... four times before Captain Farstar closed it and clenched his jaw. He sat down heavily in the pilot's chair next to Sigurd.

Just then the feed cut out in a burst of static, to be replaced by a red emblem of a stylized bird-of-prey overlaid on the old -pre-Imperial symbol of the republic. The two men listened as a distorted robotic voice began to speak. "Citizen of the galaxy," it said, "The Empire is lying to you, within the last hour you have heard that the planet of Alderaan, long a beacon of culture and civilization even among the Core Worlds, was destroyed in a tragic cosmic event. If this were true it would indeed be a tragic loss for the galaxy." For an insane moment Sigurd hoped the planet had not been destroyed, that the Empire was lying, but then the voice continued mercilessly. "The real truth, citizens, is far worse. Grand Moff Tarkin, a vaunted hero of the Clone Wars and one of the Empire's most decorated commanders, deliberately ordered the destruction of the planet, and the death of billions, as a demonstration of the Empire's new ultimate weapon - the Death Star." The emblem dissolved, to be replaced by graining long distance footage of a massive space station in orbit around the planet of Alderaan. The station was roughly spherical with a circular depression in it's upper hemisphere and, next to the planet, it appeared to be a construct of unfathomable scale, almost the size of a small moon.

Sirgurd watched in pointing horror as the depression of the station's surface was revealed to be a massive beam focusing lens, multiple lances of green energy leapt from the perimeter of the dish, converging in the centre before missing forth as a single verdant lance. The beam struck the planet, full force, and for a moment nothing seemed to happen. Then Alderaan just... exploded.

"Kark it," swore Captain Farstar, "damn Separatists dare use a tragedy like this to turn people against the Empire? It makes me sick." For a moment he actually looked like he was going to spit on his own deck.

Sigurd roused himself, cleared his throat and turned towards his captain, "Sir... could I have a few minutes?" he asked with all the self-control he could muster.

The set of the captain's jaw softened slightly, "Take five minutes to get yourself together, then I need you back here."

"Yes, sir, thank you," was all Sigurd said before getting up from his chair at the co-pilot's station and walking very deliberately towards the refresher at the back of the bridge. Once inside he closed and locked the door. He looked at himself in the mirror above the sink. Bathed in the harsh glow of the artificial light his face looked tight, every muscle tensed, his eyes unnaturally wide. He stared into the mirror, "They couldn't have," he said to his reflection, "they wouldn't." His reflection looked back at him as if to say, But you know they did. This is what the Empire really is. You can't hide any more. He remembered his parents arguing over dinner about the disbanding of the Senate before he left on this run, The Emperor is just a despot his father had said. His mother had looked not just stricken, but fearful, as though the very words were dangerous. Because they were his reflection said. Sigurd began to shake uncontrollably again, he had to grip the sink and lean against the mirror to stop himself from falling. Suddenly he couldn't get enough oxygen and he started taking huge gulping breaths like he was drowning. The attack went on for much longer than five minutes but the captain never came to check on him.

Eventually, the shaking stopped, Sigurd splashed some water on his face, careful to avoid looking at his reflection again and triggered the door release, stepping back on the bridge. At some point the captain had shut off the holo-display, and now he sat at the pilot's console, with Chunky off to the side. If it weren't for the stiffness of the captain's posture the scene would almost have looked normal.

Sigurd took his place at the co-pilot's station, as he did so he saw that the datapad with the E-170 manual on it had fallen on the floor at some point. Picking it up, he stored it in a cubby between the two consoles. "Sir?", he asked.

"I've asked Chunky to plot the jump straight to Outreme,"The captain said, in answer to the implied question, What do we do now? "I don't want to be out here for another three days before we get to port. There's no telling how people will react to something like this, especially with these Sepratist lies doing the rounds."

"Yes sir," Sigurd replied, They're not lies, though, he thought. He was saved from need for further comment as just then Chunky beeped to get his attention. "Course laid in sir, all set."

"OK son, hit it." The captain said.

Tramper One accelerated, and the stars stretched out into lines.












  Sudden Loss
by Knight

The feeling of fresh air flooding the cockpit felt good. It suppressed the nausea that John was feeling. There had been a lot of time to think and overthink everything that was happening. As John "Knight" Vorwald stood in his A-wing, he could see his squadmates. They had barely acknowledged his existence in the few days since he had joined the squadron. He didn't blame them. They had just lost most of their squadron. Knight was the first replacement, which brought them up to a single flight. They also had received news from Yavin on their trip that the fleet had been battered in a battle over some world called Scarif, and that it discovered the existence of a massive Imperial super weapon. Everyone's morale was as low as it could be.

John took a deep breath and looked at the A-wing that had landed next to him. He saw his squadron leader sitting on the nose of his fighter, hunched over. Not a good sign. According to his reputation: Nama Ulda was not the type to let anything get to him. Nama, if you could believe his stories, was a grizzled, cutthroat Sullustan spacer. Knight could see him pound a fist on his fighter and hop down, walking off to the cluster of people and speeders that made up the local rebel cell.

Knight looked back at his other two squad mates, Greggis and Myra. They were now talking together. With nothing else to do, walked over to the other two pilots. As he approached, they gave him sidelong glances and their conversation went quiet. Knight pressed on. "Hey, are either of you surprised there's even an Imperial presence here? This place is way off the beaten path."

Neither looked at him. Neither said a word.

Knight grimaced. He'd tried at least. "There was a lot of supplies on that transport and I think there's only the captain and his droid on there. I'm going to go see if they need help." There again was no response. Knight left them to their fear and grief.

As Knight walked to the nearby YV-666 freighter he heard shouts from the other rebels. He couldn't make out what was being said, but could see his squadron leader's posture and the shocked faces of the rebels. He had a good idea that Nama had told them the news.

Knight did his best to push that from his mind and walked up to the freighter's loading ramp where a labor droid was descending with the first load of supplies.

"Hey droid! Need any help?" Knight called, trying to fake as much enthusiasm as he could.

The droid stopped and turned his head to Knight, "My name is Em Dash Ee Ar Dash En. I do not require any assistance. This is what I was built for."

Knight raised an eyebrow. Was there anyone not completely miserable here? Knight tried to summon up even more fake enthusiasm. He was not going to let this mission get to him. "That's a mouthful. How about Mern?"

The droid made an approximation of a sigh. "Yes, sir. Mern. Everyone calls me that."

Knight took it the droid did not like something about the nickname. "Anyway, I've got nothing to do. I'd rather be productive than sit on my ship. I'm going to go crazy."

Mern stared at Knight for a long moment. "Productivity gives us meaning. Yes." He pointed up the ramp. "There is another repulsor sled inside."

Knight nodded, trudged up the ramp, and got to work. The two worked silently while everyone else gossiped about recent events. The two had unloaded about half the cargo when there was a loud crash from inside the light freighter. There was shouting, and the Twilek captain came running out of the hold, tripping himself on the ramp, and rolled to the bottom.

The Twilek stumbled as he tried to run before he was fully upright. "Alderaan! It's gone! They've used it! It's gone! It's gone!" He kept repeating as he ran. Knight felt the nausea again.

Mern stepped up next to Knight. "You do not look well human."

They actually used it. Knight realized he was holding his breath and forced himself to exhale. We can't fight something like that.

Knight's gaze went to his squad mates. They had started to run after the freighter captain. John continued to stand there, frozen in dread. All he could think of was that there was nowhere to run to now. No possible place that the Empire couldn't just destroy. Even if he left from the rebellion, he'd still be a wanted man. Even if he did manage to lay low, the Empire would still be there, oppressing everyone under it.

"Human?" Mern asked again. "Are you having a software error? Do you need a reboot?"

Knight didn't hear the droid. He had lost himself in thought. Whether he stayed or left it didn't change the outcome. John realized there weren't many choices that didn't either end in his death or hiding and giving up against the Empire.

A scream shook Knight from his thoughts. He focused back on the crowd and saw a few rebels standing over an unconscious Greggis. The rest were circled around Nama and Myra. They were fighting. It was hard to see what was happening through the encircled combatants.

These new events were too much for Knight's already overloaded mind. What could they possibly be fighting about in a time like this? Something had bubbled up to the top of everything else. Something that Knight had learned about his squadmates on his first day in the squadron.

"They're from Alderaan!" Knight shouted. Mern, who had still been staring at John pulled back. Myra drove her heel into the side of Nama's knee and made him crumple to the dirt. Others moved in to finally stop the fight. Myra sucker-punched herself a hole in the surrounding rebels and started running back toward the fighters.

"Stop her!" Knight heard Nama yell as he was lifted from the ground.

John finally moved and started running to intercept Myra. He couldn't believe that he forgot Greggis and Myra were from Alderaan. It was about the only thing about themselves they'd shared with him when they were all introduced.

Myra was fast. Knight wasn't quite as quick and adjusted his path to meet her at her fighter. Myra was lost to her pain and fury of what the Empire had done. Knight could see her plan as clear as day. She was going to get revenge on her own. It would most certainly kill her.

She was still faster than John. She scrambled into her fighter and started engines. Knight leapt onto the A-wing and pried the canopy open before it could close completely. Myra stopped latching her harness, stood and swore at John. He opened his mouth to say something inspiring, one last effort that would convince her not to throw away her life. The only sound that came out of his mouth was "Hurg" as Myra's fist connected with Knight's jaw. The last thing he saw was Myra sitting back into her A-wing.

Knight woke suddenly to the sounds of some prolific swearing over the whine of engines still warming up. The world was upside down and his mind was foggy. This confused Knight. He lifted his head and saw he was laid out on Myra's A-wing. Standing on the fighter with him was Mern, who was holding Myra in the air.

"Good work newbie." Nama said in a strained voice. He was just hopping up to the scene, being held up by another rebel. The CO slapped Knight's shoulder. Unsaid, Knight interpreted that as: Thanks for not letting another Alderaanian die today.












  Truth Seeker
by Dragon

Captain Kell 'DX-20-5' Arcfire walked to the most remote table in mess hall A of the Imperial Star Destroyer Nemesis Alpha, and sat down. He opened a small packet, sprinkled its contents on top of the reconstituted protein glop that passed for food aboard the ship, and began to eat rapidly. He was in no mood for company. All he wanted was to get back to his quarters before anyone could chat him up. Kell barely stifled a yelp as intense pain arced violently through the nerves in his left arm. He rolled the sleeve of his uniform out of the way and rubbed his forearm gently. The skin was hot to the touch. Beneath the surface he felt the tissues burning. It's never been this bad before . . .

Hours earlier, the Emperor's own Envoy had elevated Kell to the pinnacle of the Secret Order of the Emperor, etching the missing piece of Kell's tattoo with a powerful discharge of focused lightning. Kell had pursued this path with dedication and discipline, but upon reaching the summit, he felt no elation, only a strange emptiness and a whole lot of pain.

Kell had seen his share of the Empire's questionable tactics over the years. They'd given him pause, planting seeds of doubt in his heart. Yet, he couldn't find a solution for his conundrum. There was just so much a single man could do against a behemoth like the Galactic Empire. He'd gone out of his way to prevent needless deaths more often than not, but the results were always the same: stern reprimands from his superiors, who delighted in reminding him that the lives of Rebels, their sympathizers, and anyone involved with them were not worth sparing.

Fortunately, he had a track record of getting things done with minimal losses, and his immediate superior appreciated that. Captain Kell Arcfire had both a solid career and piloting skills, even if shooting wasn't quite his forte. The Galactic Empire must have considered him a worthy asset despite his shortcomings, otherwise he would've died in combat, or by firing squad, a long time ago. Kell was about to finish his meal when the holo-screen in the mess hall lit up.

Imperial News Network – Priority News Broadcast 94721-B-28810 live from Coruscant

A female Imperial newscaster appeared on screen shortly after. Her eyes were a deep, piercing green, hiding predatory intent beneath the surface, while her natural beauty was further enhanced by perfect makeup and expert use of lighting. She offered a broad smile to her audience. "Citizens of the majestic Galactic Empire, rejoice! Today, our courageous military forces have struck a decisive blow to the Rebellion with the Death Star, the most advanced battle station in the galaxy." She made a practiced pause for effect, letting her words sink in. "Under Grand Moff Tarkin's exemplary leadership, the Death Star's superlaser was brought to bear on the unsuspecting hive of insurgency and sedition that was planet Alderaan, turning it into space rocks and dust." The newscaster grinned, clearly enjoying herself. "Two billion Rebels have been erased from the face of the galaxy as the Galactic Empire continues to usher forth onto a new age of peace, order, and prosperity. Long live the Emperor."

The mess hall exploded with cheers, but not all soldiers partook in the celebration. Many of them sat in awkward silence, trying to process the magnitude of the situation. Kell stared blankly at the images on screen. If the Empire has the ability to destroy planets on a whim, where does it end? When is it enough? He sighed. Two billion people, gone. They couldn't have all been Rebels, it's statistically impossible.

Kell was pulled out of his thoughts when someone sat down at his table.

"Hey, Kell," said Darek Mortan, his wingman, in a cheerful tone. "What do you think of the latest news, eh? Isn't it heart-warming to finally see a concrete statement of Imperial supremacy? Man, I'm sure those bantha-loving Rebel scum didn't see it coming. Their vaunted Rebellion will be squashed, one planet at a time." Darek laughed. "No need to sacrifice more of our troops, either. We'll simply excise the disease from orbit."

"You've always talked too much, Darek."

"The destruction of the enemy is always good for morale." Darek shrugged. "Why the long face, hm? We should all be basking in the warm glow of victory!"

"Yeah? What about the non-Rebels who lived on Alderaan? What of those who didn't support the Rebellion?" Kell made a pause. "I don't buy that two billion people in Alderaan were Rebels. It's simply not possible."

"So? There were Rebels on Alderaan. That's all that matters."

"I didn't sign up to murder civvies, Darek." Kell's tone became harsh, like a growl. "I'm a soldier, not a murderer. The destruction of Alderaan was both wrong and unnecessary."

"How can you say that?" Darek hissed. "You're an agent of the Secret Order of the Emperor, you should be above spewing such poison! You, of all people, should be happy those blasted Rebels were incinerated along with their cesspit of pointless insurgency. They were nothing but scum, and it serves them right!"

Darek's disrespect towards life, and towards the truth, re-ignited something in Kell, a primal part of him that had laid dormant for years. Kell stood up and punched Darek squarely on the face. His wingman yelped, backpedaling to put some space between himself and his attacker. Kell dashed forward, closing the gap. Darek retaliated with a strong right cross. Without even blinking, Kell caught Darek's fist mid-flight with his left hand, squeezed, and then twisted Darek's arm hard. It didn't break, but Darek let out a sharp cry of pain. Kell pulled his opponent forward, and hit him in the stomach with a vicious knee strike. Darek doubled over, winded. Kell pressed the attack, putting all of his weight and torque into a vicious elbow strike that smashed into Darek's jaw. Darek collapsed in a heap, unconscious.

When the rage subsided, Kell noticed blood dripping from the left sleeve of his uniform. What the kriff? He touched the oozing liquid, it was not quite scalding, but it was hot, unnaturally so. He felt all eyes of the mess hall converging on him. Stormtroopers and pilots goose-necking, or outright staring at him. Some were probably thinking he was nothing but Rebel-loving scum. Others seemed happy he'd put Darek on the ground, but no one said anything.

Kell glared at a group of Stormtroopers whose gazes were fixated on him, and growled. "Which of you karkers is next?"

The Stormtroopers and the crowd at large dispersed, and Kell seized the moment to slip out of the mess hall. He headed back to his quarters. The durasteel door opened with a swish, and he stumbled inside. He felt he was living a strange nightmare, as if the world had suddenly lost substance and had become less real. Kell glanced at the digital picture frame on his desk. It displayed a photograph of his uncle Mone, taken back during his pilot days. Is this the pilot's life, uncle? Murdering civvies, and celebrating the deaths of innocents? Was this the reason you mysteriously disappeared one day and were branded a traitor by the Empire? He slammed his fist on the desk and snarled. Kriff it all!

Growling, Kell took off his jacket and examined his left forearm. It was bloody and sticky, and it hurt a lot. The tattoo of the Secret Order of the Emperor had split open from the inside. Great, let's add dark sorcery to my list of problems, why the kark not? Kell grabbed a bottle of disinfectant spray to clean the wound, and then wrapped a Bacta patch around it. With a sigh he plopped down on his bed and soon fell into troubled sleep.

Thirty-one standard minutes later, Kell woke up to the sound of his door swishing open.

"Ugh, who's there?" Kell said, half asleep.

Four Stormtroopers and an Imperial Intelligence Officer walked in.

"Captain Arcfire, I'm Agent Klaus Strom, Imperial Intelligence. I regret to inform you that you're under arrest on suspected insurgency and sedition charges. Please don't make it harder on yourself than it needs to be."

Kell stood up and, without saying a word, extended his arms, awaiting the inexorable restraints.

"That won't be necessary, Captain. Unless you force our hand, that is." Agent Strom nodded. "Please, follow me."

Kell was escorted into a cell that had a large chair in the middle. It was outfitted with various strange devices, and hooked to several power generators by means of very thick cables. Multiple robotic arms boasting needles and other implements of pain gleamed under the reddish light that filled the room. Kell shot a glance at the Imperial Agent, who seemed to have a tinge of regret on his face.

"Apologies, Captain. We must be excruciatingly thorough whenever insurgency or sedition charges crop up within our ranks, whether presumed or concrete. On the bright side, this procedure should clear your name, and leave no lasting damage. It will, however, be agonizingly painful." Agent Strom keyed a sequence on a control panel, and the chair came to life. "Please have a seat and make yourself as comfortable as you can."

Kark, I'm as good as dead. What was I thinking? I should've put a lid on it. Wasn't I just going on about how there was just so much a single man could do against a behemoth like the Galactic Empire? Each step towards the chair made his fear more palpable, to the degree that he could almost touch it, even taste it. I suppose truth-seeking is not an approved activity for Imperial citizens or soldiers. He sat down on the metal chair; it was unnaturally cold. His stomach twisted and knotted up painfully as his fear threatened to spiral out of control. Kell took a deep breath and grit his teeth. Fear is nothing but a karking liar! You hear me, fear? YOU'RE A KARKING LIAR, JUST LIKE THIS BLASTED EMPIRE!

Agent Strom secured the chair restraints around Kell's limbs and initiated the procedure. The chair's robotic arms began to move, and a soft electrical hum permeated the room.

"For what it's worth, indeed not much from your perspective, I'm sorry, Captain Arcfire."

Kell nodded. Nothing personal, just good business I suppose.

"Why did you attack pilot DX-21-5 in mess hall A?" Agent Strom said.

"We had a disagreement when I pointed out that it was statistically impossible for Alderaan to have had two billion Rebels."

"I see, an unfortunate situation. You should've been ecstatic that the enemies of the Empire had been so thoroughly destroyed." Agent Strom rubbed his clean-shaven chin. "While your thoughts on the matter are indeed logical, and reasonable to a certain extent, you must consider that you are an example to others. After all, you are far more than a simple TIE pilot. You are a member of the highest echelon in the Secret Order of the Emperor. Your loyalty must be nothing if absolute."

I didn't sign up to murder civvies! I'm not a karking murderer! "I've been nothing but faithful to the Empire, and I've always done my duty."

"Over quite an illustrious career, yes." Agent Strom paced around the room; hands clasped behind his back. "Some commanders do question your methods, and you often go out of your way to minimize collateral damage. It is laudable, but you must understand that we are at war, a bitter one at that. We cannot allow weakness to compromise our mission."

Weakness, you say? There's no strength in slaughtering civilians. There's nothing to be gained from it. Those kills are devoid of honor, thrill, or challenge. Soldiers kill soldiers because that's what they signed up for. But blowing up entire planets? "Of course."

"Have you come in contact with Rebels, or Rebel sympathizers?"

Psh, at this point I wish I had. Perhaps they would've allowed me to defect. I wonder how the Rebels treat Imperial prisoners. Something in my gut tells me they don't use chairs like the one I'm sitting on. "No."

Agent Strom sighed. "Regrettably, I cannot take your word for it. We do have proof that you've perused classified documents pertaining to certain Imperial military operations, particularly those involving the use of bioweapons in Rebel space."

Yeah, I needed to see that for myself. In many ways I wish I wouldn't have; it was beyond horrific. "As a member of the Secret Order of the Emperor, I have clearance to access said documents."

"You are indeed correct, but you weren't part of those operations. They took place in sectors where your unit wasn't even operating in." Agent Strom stared straight into Kell's eyes, as if trying to extract information directly from his soul. "Why go out of your way to look at them?"

Do I lie to make it easier on myself, or stick to the truth? Kell stifled a chuckle. Like there's a choice. I'm going to die here . . . "I abhor the use of bioweapons, Agent Strom. There's no honor in them. I just wanted to know the truth."

"Very noble, Captain Arcfire, but as I said earlier, we are at war. The Rebels deserve everything that's coming to them." Agent Strom shook his head. "We got reports that the projected casualties on all planets struck by Imperial bioweapons were much lower than expected, which leads us to believe there was a leak somewhere. Why did you reveal this information to the Rebels?"

What? "I've never done such a thing!"

"Alas, it is not I who needs reassurance. I'm just the messenger." Agent Strom sighed and walked to the chair's control console. "High Command, and the Envoy of the Emperor himself must be fully convinced of your innocence, and there's only one way to do that."

Kell knew exactly what that meant. Oh, this is gonna hurt, a lot. "Very well, Agent. Do your worst."

"As you wish, Captain Arcfire." Agent Strom pushed a few buttons, and then flicked a switch. "There's no dishonor or shame in screaming. This is an excruciatingly painful procedure."

"Noted, Agent Strom."

Six robotic arms fitted with needles punctured Kell's chest. He felt ice course through his veins as the injectors delivered multiple chemical concoctions into his bloodstream. Kell shuddered, and was then jolted violently by a powerful electrical discharge. Every pain receptor in his body flared up, magnified tenfold by the cocktail of substances he'd just been injected with. The room began to spin, and the walls slowly dripped into the floor.

"Captain Arcfire, why did you reveal classified information to the Rebels?"

"The w-walls . . . the walls are dripping," Kell croaked.

"Answer me," Agent Strom demanded.

"I-I revealed n-nothing. Why are the w-walls dripping?"

"Lying will get you nowhere." Agent Strom flicked another switch.

Two additional robotic arms sprang from the chair's armrests. Small laser blades came to life, and the well-worn mechanical limbs slowly began to approach Kell's legs.

"Why did you reveal classified information to the Rebels, Captain?"

Kell saw something move beyond the dripping walls, something big. In the darkness, myriad sets of red eyes began to glow. There was one pair at first, followed by three more, multiplying until he felt he was completely surrounded by glowing red eyes. No, NO! What is this? Where am I? His hands darted to his holsters, but his D-44 blasters weren't there. The roots of a strange tree were now growing through the durasteel ceiling. "I didn't reveal anything!"

The agent pressed another button. Kell felt more ice in his veins, followed by a longer, more powerful shock.

I . . . I w-won't . . . s-scream. In the darkness ahead, past the glowing red eyes, he saw faces of people he didn't know. Very many faces. T-this isn't real. None of this is real. It's just a hallucination . . . right? It has to be, RIGHT? Kell shut his eyes, but the faces were still there. Suddenly, every single face opened its eyes and stared accusingly at Kell. In the background, he saw a green beam of light, and planet Alderaan exploding in a shower of fragments. No! NO! IT WASN'T MY FAULT! I DIDN'T WANT THIS! I DIDN'T DO THIS! I DIDN'T . . .

"Why did you do it?" Agent Strom said.

Kell forced himself to look at the faces straight in the eye as best he could, for there were too many. "I-I didn't do it, I'm innocent!"

"Why did you betray the Empire?"

The roots of the strange tree slithered down like snakes, wrapping themselves tightly around Kell's legs. He felt intense heat followed by excruciating pain. The glowing eyes approached, the faces hovered, piercing Kell with their unyielding gazes, and the darkness slowly snuffed out whatever meager light remained. Kell's face was drenched in sweat, snot, and tears. I DIDN'T CHOOSE THIS LIFE! I WAS BORN IN IT! I DIDN'T KNOW ANY BETTER! The gnarled tree roots tightened their grip around Kell's legs, and a small clawed hand, deformed and scaly, grabbed his boot.

"I DIDN'T BETRAY THE EMPIRE!" Kell roared loud and long. His pain and fear became fuel for the dormant rage within. "DO YOUR KARKING WORST!"

Far away, deep within the void of light itself, Kell saw two gleaming golden eyes with vertical pupils. A powerful roar echoed, followed by a massive stream of flame. Kell grit his teeth and closed his eyes reflexively, expecting a horrible death. Yet it wasn't oblivion, but warmth, that embraced him. When he mustered enough courage to open his eyes again, he found himself enveloped by flames that, strangely, didn't burn him. The floating faces were nowhere to be found, the glowing red eyes were gone, and the gnarled tree roots were nothing but ashes at his feet. The darkness had consumed everything else, except the fire that now surrounded and comforted him. Kell felt very tired, and his heavy eyelids began to close. He fought it at first, but was not able to prevent the inevitable slip into unconsciousness.

Kell woke up inside a Bacta tank, and groaned. When his eyes finally came into focus, he saw Agent Strom's face through the tank's glass.

"Captain Arcfire." Agent Strom saluted.

Kell barely managed to nod as a reply.

"After thoroughly reviewing your case, High Command has arrived to the conclusion that there was no wrongdoing on your part. The interrogation process, while excruciating, did exactly what it was meant to do. You have been reinstated effective immediately, and will be resuming your duties as an Imperial pilot as soon as you're medically cleared."

Words came out of Kell's mouth, but Agent Strom couldn't hear him.

Two weeks later, Kell 'DX-20-5' Arcfire, and Darek 'DX-21-5' Mortan, were finishing their pre-flight check routines. Intelligence reports indicated that the Reckoning, a heavily-armed Nebulon-B2 Rebel Frigate had been spotted deep in their sector of Imperial space. From inside his cockpit, Darek shot Kell a look that brimmed with anger and resentment. You were my hero, Kell. Why did you betray us? Why did you betray ME?

Once cleared for takeoff, two TIE defenders launched from the Imperial Star Destroyer Nemesis Alpha. Hand on the flight stick, Kell's mind drifted. He remembered the golden eyes, and the flames keeping the darkness at bay, and a smile began to form on his lips. You saw them too, didn't you, uncle? You saw the truth about the Empire. Kell closed his eyes for a moment. I don't know what a single man can do against the behemoth that is the Galactic Empire, but I'll find the answer, I promise you, uncle Mone.












  A Spacer's Indifference
by Bulldog

Andy sat in his usual spot at his usual hole-in-the-wall cantina on his home planet of Rendili. The life of a spacer, even a successful one, still required moments where you could unplug and completely relax. That's exactly what he planned to do for the next two days until their next scheduled contract.

The regulars knew who he was even though he only had chances to visit sporadically due to the nature of the business he and his father ran. Still, it was as close to a friendly place to drink as he'd ever be likely to find. Nobody wanted to pick a fight or try to run a scam on him, and if that ever did come to pass, the regulars were pretty good about discouraging that type of behavior before it came to a head.

So here Andy sat, sipping on his fifth double of the local bourbon. His vision was starting to blur, but he had no plans to go anywhere else tonight so it wouldn't be a problem if he had to get carried out of here. A call to one of their employees to come grab him would make sure he made it home ok.

They'd just returned from their business on Kijimi, and he was still feeling some type of way about how things went down there. Every search he'd run to find the woman that had stolen his heart over the course of one night came up with no results. He could not believe that she would have deceived him, but she also didn't exist by any sort of official or unofficial record he could find, and it was troubling him beyond measure.

His father had forced him to leave the planet without going back for her due to the heightened security and the fact that he was now a wanted man on the planet for assaulting a local security officer. Nevermind the fact that the man had been assaulting his mystery girl, and during the fight Andy had taken the worst of the exchange. The following morning, the security bulletin went out and he was on the hook for stabbing and scratching the security thug despite the fact that those things had happened while he was face down in a pool of his own blood from a broken nose.

Still, he couldn't go back yet. His father had put a sophisticated software block on his freighter's start-up sequence to discourage Andy from going back to Kijimi to find her. His father's Shistavanen first mate, Daqwee, also stood guard most nights on Andy's freighter to discourage any attempts at subverting the locking mechanism.

"Someday," Andy grumbled quietly into his glass before picking it up and tossing it all down in one burning gulp. He'd begun formulating a plan to recruit some local toughs to go back to Kijimi with him as backup in case local security hassled him when he returned to find... her.

One of the attractive waitresses sauntered over. The two of them had been more than just customer and waitress in the past, and the look in her eye was the same she'd thrown his way many times in the past that ended up in fun exertion. "You're useless to me completely wasted, Spacer," she said playfully with an attractive half-smile.

"I'm useless to anybody tonight," Andy replied sullenly, not meeting her eyes.

Her face fell as she understood the meaning. "I see, so it's just strictly business tonight?"

"Afraid so, darlin."

"Well, in that case, how about another double?"

Andy nodded, and watched her shapely figure walk back toward the bar. Something perked up within him. "Wait," he called out.

She whirled around and walked back, looking at him expectantly with an arched eyebrow.

"Can I get a plate of fleetabeast nachos?"

Her face fell for the second time in the span of a few seconds. She nodded, and then went back to the bar.

The feeling that had perked up deep inside of him had been hunger, apparently. He watched various vidscreens showing sporting events or other muted newsfeeds from various worlds. He absentmindedly watched a crashball match while he waited for his food, realizing that he truly did enjoy the game and should find more time to pay attention to it.

"Here you go, flyboy," the waitress said evenly as she deposited a plate of nachos to his table, as well as the double of bourbon he'd ordered.

"Thanks, darlin," he said graciously. "I'm really sorry about... You know..."

"It's ok."

"Just not feeling like myself the last few days is all."

"If you change your mind, I'm on shift for another two hours." She started to move away, but stopped. "I don't know how to explain this, but I get the feeling you met somebody extremely important on your last run."

He was speechless, but he nodded in agreement while he met her kind eyes.

"It's ok. We had some fun times. If you change your mind tonight, I'll be around."

He nodded politely despite knowing he had no libido to speak of at this point. Well, that wasn't exactly true, as he very much wanted to see his mystery lover again, and that thought drew a very healthy reaction in all the related places.

He brought his fist down to the table in a mixture of sadness and sexual frustration. The precarious tower of nachos shook and then tumbled all over the table as chips clattered across the filthy surface. Across the room, the server girl screamed sharply and then passed out as she was carrying a tray full of drinks. The glasses shattered on the floor around the unconscious waitress.

"Sheersa! What's wrong?"

Just then, all of the screens around the bar went to static, as did the audio of the one screen that was being featured. The other patrons all went silent as the background noise of a sporting event's commentary that they'd become accustomed to was now gone.

"What's this now, Keeper?"

"Throw the game back on!"

"Keeper forgot to pay his holo bill!"

The gruff bartender waved them all off in frustration as he tended to his unconscious waitress. "Relax ya drunk hooligans. I'll go see what's wrong with the feeds after I see what's wrong with her. Might be another blasted mynock..."

Andy shrugged and started eating his nachos, ignoring the fact that many of those chips had just touched the filthy table. He ate voraciously, realizing that he really hadn't eaten much in the past few days due to his lovelorn depression.

The screens all flashed to what appeared to be a dingy command center, with a healthy amount of static cutting through the broadcast. A haggard figure stepped into view with a wild, fearful look in his eye.

"I don't have much time. The Empire destroyed Alderaan with a space station called The Death Star. They're going to say it was a mining accident like they did with Jedha, but it wasn't. The Death Star destroyed it with a new weapon called a 'superlaser'. Don't believe what you hear on the fake news! You cannot follow a government that would willingly use that type of force on their people!"

A loud pounding began on the door of the man on the screen, making him frantically look over his shoulder.

"They've tracked my broadcast! I'll be dead before I leave this room. Don't believe their lies! You must resist in the name of the two billion souls that just perished on a peaceful planet!"

The door on the screen behind the man opened, and a squad of stormtroopers came in, blasters blazing.

"For Alderaan!" the man shouted as he stood tall in full view of his camera with his empty hands raised. He fell out of screen in a hail of red blaster bolts.

"Kill the feed!" one of the stormtroopers said as he stood where the man had just been standing. Another trooper blasted the camera.

The feeds went to static again.

"What was that?"

"Some loony hacked the holonet."

"But what if he was telling the truth?"

Everyone was quiet.

The feeds resumed their normal programming, drawing a healthy cheer from most of the patrons in the bar. There were a few, like Andy, that were in a taciturn mood after the pirated broadcast.


Andy awoke in his apartment late the next day with no memory as to how he'd returned home. He looked around the pristine place and groaned as the dying light of the day filtered in through his blinds.

His comm chirped. He rolled over to the other side of his spacious bed and looked at the screen to see the gruff face of his father. He tapped the button to accept the connection.

"Wake up!"

"I've been up for hours, pops," Andy lied.

"Yeah, and I was born yesterday. We've got a contract."

Andy sat up and almost doubled over as his stomach twisted in on itself. "I thought we had another day back home?"

"Change of plans. Big juicy contract just came across the wire. We dust off in two hours."

Andy carried the comm to the refresher and sat down hurriedly before he exploded. He shivered as his rear end made contact with the cold seat. "What's the contract?"

"Military. The Empire needs to ship some weapons across the galaxy in a hurry. They're utilizing almost every independent company in the core systems. Something big's going down."

Andy emptied his bowels as silently as possible, but there was no containing the fury that his intestines were putting on display.

"Are you talking to me on the refresher? I don't appreciate being associated with your bathroom time!"

Andy snorted. "Would you rather I crap my pants then?"

There was a pause. Andy could picture his father pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, and it made him smile.

"We've got to dust off in two hours. Do whatever you need to do to be ready by then."

It was Andy's turn to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Look, Dad, it couldn't be helped. Did you see a hacked broadcast last night?"

"Yeah, went out on all screens. Pretty nifty trick if you ask me."

Andy waited for more, but that was all that was forthcoming from his emotionless father. The only emotions Clark Sr. felt or displayed were frustration or anger. "Do you think it was true?"

"What do we care if it was or wasn't?"

Andy was floored. He'd inherited his father's indifference for the most part, but even the thought of not caring if an entire planet was intentionally destroyed was hovering deep into sociopathic territory. "I mean, it's a pretty big deal if it's true."

"If you say so, Son."

"We should probably stop taking Imperial contracts if it turns out to be the real deal, Dad."

His father scoffed loudly. "We will do nothing of the sort. Their credits spend the same as everybody else's. Better than others' credits sometimes."

"I can't believe you'd be so cavalier about working for an entity that endorsed the destruction of an entire population. Even if there were rebels there, the entire planet couldn't have been rebels."

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," his father hissed. "Get your ass to your ship on time or find yourself a new line of work." He killed the connection.

Andy was floored. While he'd never really had squeaky clean morals, he always felt that his father was more of a good guy than a bad guy. This conversation really threw that entire notion into the refresher with the aftermath of whatever was in those nachos from the night before. He strained loudly, pushing out the largest part of his immediate troubles into the bowl of the toilet.

He flushed, and as the water carried the waste into a whirlpool, somewhere across the galaxy a rebel pilot's proton torpedo did the same thing as it dove into the exhaust port of the Death Star.












  Reluctant Rebel
by Dobber

Andrew felt the gentle thwack of a cane against his left arm as he read the job holo board inside the lobby of the Corellia University faculty building for history, economics, and communications. Students milled about, having conversations about their courses or life events.

"Success operates in active moments and not in idleness," grumbled a voice behind him. Andrew glanced over his shoulder to see an older man wearing a cardigan over his khaki pants and light blue shirt with tufts of thick greying hair strewn in every direction . His stern demeanour melted into a familiar and warm smile.

"Professor Faldon!" Andrew exclaimed, turning around to meet the man.

"Good to see you, my boy," Faldon said as he held out his hand. Andrew clasped it in return before letting go. "Are you here to deliver my package?"

"It would seem so," Andrew said, glancing at the delivery address on the package. He handed it to the professor, who in turn quickly waved it away.

"Please, it's been so long since we've talked. Would you have time to come up to my office?" he asked earnestly. "I don't get to see former students very often."

Andrew hesitated for a moment.

"Sure," he replied. "It's my last delivery of the day anyway and I'm ahead of schedule."

A few minutes later -- Faldon insisted that they take the stairs because he needed the exercise -- they arrived at his office. The door slid open quietly to reveal a small secretarial room with a desk and its occupant working away at a computer console.

"Good afternoon, professor," said the young woman with blonde hair in a white blouse.

"Hello, Saige," said Faldon. "Andrew here will be in my office for a bit while we catch up. Please tell any students or other faculty to wait until we're done."

"Of course, professor," she replied.

The pair made their way towards a wooden door with a handle. It was a trademark of the professor's lifestyle. He'd had it salvaged, so the story went, from a historical building that the local Imperial government had demolished as part of a plan to set up a fuel depot. It had taken some convincing, but with the help of the university president he was able to save it and have it installed. Faldon had many quirks, and his knack for outdated relics was one of them.

As the door opened, it led into a larger room full of artifacts and data pads scattered amongst the shelving and furniture. An oaken desk was placed by the large bay window in the room. Walking across the partially carpeted floor, Faldon moved to sit in his comfortable professor's chair behind the desk while Andrew sat in one of the two guest chairs in front. He placed the package on the professor's desk in front of him.

"So, tell me, my boy, what have you been up to since I last saw you? It's been, what, three? Four years?"

"It has," Andrew said with a nod. "I've been working for my uncle on and off whenever he has jobs lined up. It depends on when the Empire needs him, of course. Ever since his -- our family -- business was pressed into the Imperial shipping and receiving program, work has been sparse. So I'm planetside for a bit and picked up a temporary gig with a local delivery company for some extra credits."

"Hmm," mused the professor, leaning back in his chair. "And what do you think of the whole thing?"

Andrew paused to consider the question. No one had really asked the question before, and he hadn't given it much thought.

"It's not really fair," he said. "The Empire has taken and consolidated all the local businesses into its own convoy lines, but there are more ships than there are products at the moment."

A small smile creased Faldon's lips.

"Or so the Empire wants you to believe," he said.

Andrew tilted his head, puzzled at the statement.

"Could I interest you in an exercise of the mind?" he asked.

"Okay," Andrew said. He had always enjoyed Faldon's mental exercises in the classes he had taken. The answers were seldomly obvious, but provided good fuel for the brain and class discussion.

"It takes some digging," said the professor, as he opened a drawer and produced a small holo puck. "But there's more at work here than the ordinary citizen thinks." Pressing a button, a map of galactic trade routes sprung to life. "Tell me, what do you see?"

Andrew stared at the image for a minute before replying. Images and numbers sprung to life, indicating the volume of trade between the major supply lines and systems.

"Trade routes and Imperial supply lines," he said.

"Clearly," said the professor. Pressing another button the image flickered again. "How about now?"

The image looked exactly the same for the most part. Some of the trade volumes had shifted, but the numbers were off only by fractions of a percent or a percent as a whole.

"Okay, so the markets have fluctuated and shipping has been changed. Nothing out of the ordinary for market cycles."

"So it would seem," said Faldon, leaning closer. "But as I taught you years ago, even minor fluctuations in the market can have large ramifications. Look closer."

Andrew took another minute to analyze the new map in front of him. He felt that something was off, but couldn't put his finger on it.

"I'm sorry, professor," he said, "but I'm not sure that I see what you do."

Faldon gave a sigh.

"It's difficult to see. But it's there. I've been compiling the data for the last ten years. Look at where the Imperial trade routes have all but stopped going, and where the supply convoy routes have been diverted to."

It took another moment before Andrew saw it, but it was there. A detail so small that only a person like Faldon -- who was a person of rare calibre -- was able to piece it together.

"The Arkanis Sector?" he finally asked.

"Correct. Specifically, Geonosis. Now, why would the Empire cut off trade to a planet but increase convoy activity with construction material and equipment? Wouldn't the Empire stand to profit more from increasing trade to star systems rather than divert or restrict it?"

"From an economic point of view," Andrew said, "the Empire would benefit from it, or any taxes and levies it imposed. The only thing that would require the Empire to change trade routes or take action would be war or a project of some sort."

"Exactly," said Faldon, nodding his head. "And with the Emperor recently dissolving the last power of the Imperial Senate while consolidating his authority, complete control lies within Coruscant and the Imperial Moffs in each sector. The illusion of power and economic prosperity, it would seem, benefits the rich and powerful while people like your family are left with just enough to scrape by -- if that."

"So, why tell me this, professor? I don't like the Empire by any stretch of the imagination, but there's nothing I can do about it. I couldn't possibly force an Imperial governor to change a trade route."

"So you think," Faldon said. "But if people resign themselves to complacency, they will never truly be free. You, of all people, should know that after taking some of my courses."

"Then why tell me all this? You clearly didn't ask me up here just to catch up."

"Yes and no," he said, reaching for a second puck in his desk. He laid it down to the first one and turned off the map of the trade routes. "It's always good to see you, my boy. But I have to know -- can I trust you?"

"Professor?" Andrew began.

"Can I," he said, lowly and intently, "trust you?"

"Yes," Andrew said after a moment. "Yes, you can trust me."

"Good." Faldon pressed the second puck and a video sprung to life. "What I'm about to show you must not leave this room. Not yet." The image shifted to show the planet Alderaan. The blue planet awash with swirling white clouds was the jewel of galactic democracy and peace despite the Empire's grasp. Suddenly, a thick green laser blast shot towards the planet from the top-left corner of the screen and the planet was reduced to nothing more than a massive field of debris.

Andrew's jaw dropped.

"H-how...?" he began to ask.

"This video was taken by an Alderaanian freighter a day ago. It was able to jump out of the system and avoid the debris field and Imperial forces, but was later detained at a spaceport in an adjoining star system. The captain of the ship was smart enough to transmit the information to a mutual acquaintance of his. A mutual acquaintance of mine sent it to me."

Andrew was still in shock at watching the planet explode. The Empire was terrible, but he had never imagined it would do something like this.

"If good people don't educate themselves," continued Faldon, "don't stand up and speak out, more planets will suffer the fate of Alderaan. Do you understand?"

Andrew nodded.

"I'm getting too old for taking on challenging projects and leading demonstrations. The campus has been succumbing to censorship for years. Free speech is closely monitored and restricted, a pale comparison to what it was under the Republic. Whatever you do, don't settle for accepting things as they are."

Andrew met Faldon's eyes. They were full of concern. He thought he heard footsteps from outside the door behind him, and twisted his head quickly to check the door. It didn't open.

"Your secret is safe with me," Andrew said as he turned back to face Faldon.

"Thank you, my boy," he said, switching off the puck and pocketing it into his cardigan. "Now, I don't mean to be rude, but I have a meeting I must attend to before I go home for the evening. Let me see you out."

As they left the office, Andrew noticed that Saige was no longer in the room.

They took the turbolift this time. The main lobby was still busy with students and staff members moving about. Up ahead the main doors slid open. An Imperial security officer and two stormtroopers entered, followed by an Imperial probe droid variant.

Faldon froze momentarily when he saw the security force and used his cane arm to stop Andrew.

"Looks like trouble," Faldon said quietly. "Remain calm."

Andrew nodded, and they continued their walk forwards. The Imperial troops met them halfway in the lobby.

"Jar Faldon," said the security officer. The stormtroopers moved to stop both him and Andrew. "I'd like you to come with us."

"What for?" Faldon asked.

"Everything will be explained once you meet with Constable Medelius. If you'll come with us, please."

"I'm not going anywhere until I know why," Faldon said intently. "I have the right as a citizen of Corellia to know why I'm being called in for questioning. And if the constable has such an urgent need to speak with me, he can do so by calling or making an appearance during my office hours. Now if you'll excuse us...."

Faldon took Andrew's arm and made to move past the storm troopers. Their blaster safeties clicked off. Both men froze.

"I would very much like to have done this peaceably, mister Faldon," said the security officer. "But you leave me no choice. Arrest them."

"On what charges?" Andrew asked.

The security officer gave a huff before replying, "Treason."

Before Andrew could say anything more, Faldon spun the cane in his hand around and pointed the handle at the first stormtrooper. A blaster shot from the cane hit the first stormtrooper in the chest, then the second as Faldon moved the cane to the left. As the stormtroopers hit the floor, the probe droid variant began to hoot and whistle an alarm. Faldon raised his cane to take a swipe at the security officer, who had begun to reach for his blaster.

It was the probe droid that shot Faldon. Twice.

Screams erupted in the foyer as people took cover or ran.

"No!" Andrew shouted as the old man barreled over backwards.

The probe droid variant gave another hoot of an alarm, its optics trained on Andrew. Andrew grabbed onto the security officer and pulled himself behind the officer, wrapping an arm around his neck. He fumbled for the blaster that was in the officer's holster. Raising it, he fired two shots at the droid, which fell to the ground in a heap of smoke and electrical surges. Moving his hand out from around the officer's neck, he pushed the officer forward. As he stumbled, Andrew switched the blaster to stun and fired a shot at the kneeling officer. His body went limp. A klaxon began to wail in the building. Faldon gave a groan.

"Professor!" Andrew said, rushing to his side. The two blaster marks scorched the professor's chest. He was gasping for air. "No. No, no, no."

"I," gasped Faldon, "didn't want you involved. Not like this."

"It'll be okay," Andrew said, tears forming in his eyes. "I'll get the campus medics and--"

"No," Faldon choked, meeting Andrew's eyes. As blood formed on his lips, Faldon moved to slip the ring off his index finger and pressed it into Andrew's free hand. "The ring ... will get you where you need ... to go," he rasped. "Take the puck ... and go."

"Professor, I--"

"You always ... were one of ... my favourite students ... my boy," Faldon finished with heavy breaths. "Don't ... be idle. Edu ... educate others ... for Alderaan."

A final gasp escaped the professor's mouth, then he was gone.

Tears streaming down his cheeks, Andrew looked at the thick ring that Faldon had given him. Students began to crowd around Andrew and Faldon's body. Seeing that the ring was adjustable, Andrew twisted it open.

The interior revealed the phoenix-shaped symbol inside.

"He's a Rebel," said a student nearby.

"If he's a Rebel, he's a traitor," said another.

Fishing for the puck, Andrew pocketed it and the ring and stood up. Someone tried to grab hold of him, but he shook himself free.

"Stay away," Andrew said. Two more students moved closer towards him. "Stay back!" Andrew said, raising the blaster. Everyone froze.

Andrew heard another voice to his right. He turned to see a female student calling the local security detachment through a holo communicator as the klaxon still wailed. Moving towards the exit he kept everyone in eye sight, using the blaster to clear a path. That didn't stop several other students, however, from calling him a traitor, or other insults.

As soon as he got to the doors, he discarded the blaster and made a mad dash for his speeder bike. Firing up the engine, his eyes red and his heart racing with adrenaline and fear, the craft surged forward.

The only thought that raced through his mind was that Alderaan, and people like Faldon, deserved justice. He would not be idle. But he knew that he would never be safe on Corellia so long as the Empire reigned.

What choice did he have?

He ran.












  Learning the Truth
by Talon

The long row of students filed into the classroom, taking their seats in an orderly, almost robotic fashion. The teacher strode with authority to the front of the class and surveyed the room with a piercing icy glare. His eyes connected with two of his students in particular, both sitting next to each other. One was a tall boy, about 16, with grey eyes and light brown hair, and the other was a girl, significantly shorter, with neat brown hair and green eyes. The boy held the teachers gaze without flinching, and gave a confident nod, while the girl looked away almost instantly.

The teacher hardened his glare, and then turned his back on the class, to swipe up on a large holo-screen behind him. "Notepads out everyone! Today we will discuss the possible hazards you may find in any given space system. Now, as pilots, you should have sensors to help you identify possible threats, but you need to know how to deal with them accordingly..."

The lecture lasted for about twenty minutes, and then the teacher was quiet while the students copied notes and looked over the points the teacher had made. Edwyn glanced at Tallyn and saw she had mislabeled some of her space hazards, so he whispered so only she could hear, "I think you may have swapped those two on accident, you switched the Ringali Nebula with the Monsua Nebula." The girl, slightly annoyed, examined her notes, and saw that Edwyn was right. She blushed and hastily reversed the two.

The teacher was about to continue, when two officers burst into the room with deathly pale faces. They walked straight to the teacher, whispered something in his ear, and walked out. "Students... class dismissed. Please return to the gymnasium in an orderly fashion. Edwyn! Lead them there. He is in charge until another officer comes to oversee you. I am afraid there is an urgent matter I must attend to. Dismissed!"

Edwyn stood to attention, and saluted the teacher. "Alright everyone! Follow me!"

He led them out of the classroom, and down the long winding halls of the imperial compound on the planet Carida. Tallyn came up next to him, and in a low voice, asked "So what do you suppose is a big enough deal that they cancel class, take the professor, and let a STUDENT lead the entire class of cadets through the compound without supervision?"

"Well... We are never COMPLETELY without supervision. We do have a highly advanced set of security cameras that monitor everything... you have to remember that. And then, I have a few ideas, all of which have come up in... background research I have done for my assignments" he winked at her and grinned. "As for what could have possibly happened. I will tell you when we get to the gym."

The rest of the walk to the gym was quiet, the normal sound of stormtroopers patrolling the halls, officers yelling orders, and just the general hum of activity was strangely absent from the massive compound. Eventually, the hallway opened up into the gymnasium, and the cadets dispersed to their favourite down-time activities, some on the obstacle course, others in blaster practice.

Tallyn stood next to Edwyn as he surveyed the class, and when he was satisfied that everyone had taken up an activity that would not immediately result in severe injury, he turned to Tallyn. "Ok, So what I was thinking concerning this event... I have caught wind of a rebel movement in the outer rim. They use hit -and-fade tactics, to prevent us from ever precisely locating their base of operations, that is- assuming they have a consistent base. That is, until recently of course. We recently located a rebel hideout on a moon in the Yavin system. I can only foresee two possible outcomes for this, one of which, the less likely one, is that we somehow suffered a terrible loss in a space battle. What I hope happened, is that we had a decisive victory against those rebels, and we will now be on the verge of completely removing the threat they pose for the entire galaxy."

Tallyn looked at Edwyn, and shook her head. "How do you find all this stuff out? It makes no sense that you know any of this, or why you would be willing to share any of it with me. I want to know how you get to know all this and I don't!"

"Tallyn... My job comes with some.... Benefits that most other people don't get.The jobs normally involve extensive background research and I--"

He was interrupted by the arrival of an officer, who began shouting orders, calling cadets back into formation.

"Cadets! Effective immediately, we are under a strict communications quarantine, no exceptions until further notice! You are to return to your barracks and prepare for your academic studies. All non-essential electronic devices have been disabled for the time being. I shall escort you back to your rooms." The officer turned and walked out of the gym, and the cadets began following him out of the room.

The next few days were filled with questions and thoughts that were unanswerable without the use of his equipment, which, despite his skill in computers, he was unable to put back in working order without gaining the suspicion of his roommates.

A week later, all cadets were summoned to the auditorium. They all filed into the room at six a.m. sharp, and saw a high-ranking officer standing at the podium.

"Cadets, citizens of the Glorious Empire, servants of the Emperor, I am here to inform you of the great crimes of the so-called "Rebellion". One week ago, our peaceful mining station, manned by hundreds of thousands of innocent imperial men, with families, and dreams, was simply passing through the Alderaan system, when the "Rebellion" mercilessly attacked it. They took control of our mining station, and forced our own men to fire the laser at our peaceful planet of Alderaan, which tore the planet's core apart. Those "Rebels" then, with the station's self-destruct, murdered every single person on board. The Rebels must be stopped! They cannot be allowed to continue with acts like this! We shall make them PAY for the utter destruction of an ENTIRE PLANET!!" The officer slammed his fist down on the podium, the sound ringing through the otherwise silent room. "Servants of the Empire! I urge you to train like never before! Show the Rebels that their actions WILL NOT STAND! Show the Rebellion who rules the Galaxy!"

The officer's voice echoed through the room, and faded away completely. Then, slowly, a roar arose formed by the hundreds of cadets in the room, all shouting at once for the destruction of the Rebellion.

Later that night, after a long day of physical exertion, Edwyn found that the communications lockdown had been lifted when he, out of habit, reached for his datapad to check his message-interception devices remotely. Finding his access restored, he quickly retreated to his corner, and began searching for answers.

The next morning, he walked into the training room, and had dark circles under his eyes from lack of sleep. Tallyn raised her eyebrows, and whispered "Are you alright? You look like you didn't sleep last night."

"Yeah... I need to talk to you... "

"Well, we have the lunch hour... Can it wait till then?"

"It will have to."

At lunch, Edwyn pulled Tallyn aside as soon as she entered the lunchroom. "Listen, I know this sounds crazy, but most of the stuff I tell you IS crazy and you still listen, so bear with me. Last night, when the communications came back online, I did--"

"Some research. Yeah, I get it, go on."

Edwyn rolled his eyes and continued "I found that there were no distress logs sent from the mining station in the Alderaan system a week ago, when the incident happened. A station that big could not have possibly been taken so quickly that no distress signals could be sent before it was fully occupied by Rebel forces. I am not even sure if the Rebels have enough troops to control a station with more than two hundred thousand people on it. Then, how many Rebels would it take to override all the safety protocols for the self-destruct? And even then! How would they manage to get all of their troops out safely, and then get past the escort that should have blown any Rebel force away before they even had a chance to board! The situation is... difficult. I may serve the Empire, but I always strive for the truth, and right now, the truth is not looking good for the Empire."

"Hmmm... You may have a point. Their argument sounded convincing until you basically just... disproved the entire thing... I don't know who I am supposed to believe now, the Empire, or you?"

"Right now, I don't know what to believe either..."

An officer called to the two of them, "Cadets! Come here please." When Edwyn and Tallyn arrived, he continued. "Cadet KalDan, please report to my office. Cadet Verta, Officer Borton wished to speak with you." The officer walked away towards his office.

Edwyn and Tallyn looked at each other. "It seems we may be parting ways... I probably have a mission off-world or something, which means I may not see you for a long time. You will be alright?"

"Yeah... I should be fine" replied Tallyn. "And good luck on your mission."


The two of them fell into an awkward silence for a second. Edwyn pulled Tallyn into a quick side-hug, and then let go. He began walking, but turned. A single tear fell from his eye. "Good-bye Tallyn. I'll be in touch." He smiled, turned, and made his way through the extensive tunnels of the compound.

The automatic door hissed as it opened, and Edwun walked inside. "You asked to see me, sir?"

The Officer turned around in his swivel chair to face the cadet.

"Cadet KalDan... we've got a job for you."












  The Disaster
by Wolf

"Well, doctor, how bad is it?" Director Botan asked as they all crowded inside one of the small exam rooms of his father's surgical clinic. It was warm with all four of them in there, but the other rooms were all in use. The mine collapse earlier that week made space at the Krenn clinic a premium.

Doctor Avek Krenn studied the readout on his datapad, pointedly not looking at his patient. Myke, however, could not look away. Rieko sat swinging her legs, both of them, even the injured one, as if in defiance. She, in turn, was staring right back at him with a smirk that both irritated and enthralled him.

"Just a sprain, my friend, just a sprain," Doctor Krenn told the director with a smile, offering up the datapad. Director Botan was dressed in a rumpled Imperial uniform, his poncho smudged with soot from the soot falls common in the factory districts of Sluis Van. He took the datapad in a gloved hand and looked at it, then at his daughter before handing it back.

"You're lucky," he said to her.

Rieko simply shrugged.

With a sigh, Botan shook his head and crossed his arms. "So, how long will she be like this?"

"Forever," Doctor Krenn said with a hint of amusement in his voice.

The Imperial Director's face cracked with a smile and the two older men shared a chuckle. With a shake of his head, Botan removed his cap and shook some soot from his salt and pepper hair.

"Don't tell me that, Avek. Eighteen has already been too long."

"Dad, I'm fine," Rieko whined, crossing her arms and exhaling, blowing some of her long, dark hair from her face. Myke found the action mesmerizing. Her hair was smooth as silk and as black as the deepest mine. Once, she'd let him braid it for her. It had been one of the most exciting moments of his life.

Except for today, of course, if he managed to live through it.

"You're not fine," Myke's father said and pointed a stylus at the thick bandage around her ankle. "Do not put weight on that for three days, minimum. I'm serious. And no more flying."

That was meant for both of them, Myke knew, even if his father didn't look at him. What he did was glance meaningfully at Director Botan. "It's a shame we don't have a bacta tank here. Fifteen minutes and she'd be walking out of here."

"Tell me about it. I keep asking and they keep saying we don't have the need. You're too good at your job, Avek. Maybe let a few people hobble around a bit longer."

As the two men talked, Myke stole another glance at Rieko, who was giving him that look again. The look that always made him do things that got him into trouble, like today when they took the speeder out into the abandoned tunnels beneath the factories. And how she had wanted to try flying it herself. Fast.

"I'm telling you, Avek. You're too efficient. Between you and your boy, you get these people up and walking in no time. Hardly any production lost."

"I thought that was good for you, Inan?"

The Director rolled his eyes. "Of course it's good for me, but it's terrible for those workers. If we could get a bacta tank in here, they'd go back to work faster. Hells, they'd be able to rest longer for the same amount of time. Telling you, be worse at your job."

"Who's the director here?" Myke's father said with a chuckle, then turned his attention on Rieko. "Do you need a painkiller? How's the pain on a scale of one to ten?"

"It's fine, I'm fine, Doctor Krenn. Trust me."

Myke watched in horror as his father reached down, wrapped his hand around Rieko's ankle and squeezed. The very idea of touching Rieko's skin, anywhere at all, gave him goosebumps. Just a few hours ago, he'd felt her bare leg against his knee. He'd decided he could die happy.

Which was good, since his death may be coming from his father in a short bit as she yelped in pain.


"So, one to ten?"

"It's a six, okay! A six."

"Good girl," Myke's father said with a grin and got an injector from his table. With a snap-hiss, the medicine was dispensed into her calf. He couldn't stop staring at the little impression it made on her skin. Normally so smooth and white as the snow in the mountain peaks, now marred by a little dimple where the injector had deformed it.

Director Botan helped Rieko off the table. "Next time, dearest daughter of mine, you'll listen to the doctor and perhaps your father when we've both warned you about those damned tunnels--"

One of his father's nurses burst in, normally unflappable, Jessi Evlayt was wide-eyed and flushed. "Doctor Krenn? Director? You may want to see this."

In the main office they watched the INN news report in stunned silence. Rieko touched his hand, her shoulder pressed to his. Even with that magical contact, he couldn't look away. What they were saying was impossible.

"A bloody rogue asteroid? How in the Emperor's name did that slip through?" Director Botan was saying, his head slowly shaking side to side. "For one big enough to destroy the planet? I don't believe it."

"It's what happens when you have no weapons," one of the office techs said.

"Even so, there's fleets! There's something. This ...."

"It's a lie." Rieko's voice was quiet, so quiet that only Myke could hear her utter it.

"This is a tragedy," Myke's father said, slowly sinking to a chair. "All those people."

"How many on Alderaan?" Myke found himself asking.

"Two billion," Rieko sighed. "Killed, just like that. Gone."

The INN reporter was calling it a disaster. A cataclysm on the normally peaceful world. It was unthinkable. The anchor, who was watching a feed of the debris field, appeared to be stunned wordless. He tried several times to speak but couldn't.

Myke couldn't imagine that much death. What would go through your mind in those moments? To destroy the planet must have taken an asteroid big enough to blot out the sky. Big enough that you'd think it would be captured by the star instead.

He found Rieko staring at him again. Her eyes were shining, wet with unshed tears. Her lips were pressed tight into a line. She looked furious, not sad, and Myke didn't understand why.

A beep broke the stunned silence and Director Botan listened to a private call. After it was over, he sighed, looking to Myke's father. "Looks like there's going to be a meeting for all Imperial directors on this. Hopefully we'll be able to arrange some sort of aid for any survivors. Pack a bag, Avek. We might need you."

Director Botan collected his daughter and made for the exit, Rieko using a crutch to keep the weight off her sprained ankle. Myke and his father walked them to the door, where the two men shook hands before the director turned to Myke.

"Be careful around my daughter," he said and Myke felt his guts twist in fear. Then Botan put a hand on his shoulder and leaned close. "She's a bad influence." Then with a wink and a smile, he left. Rieko gave Myke one last look before following, a look that confused him. It wasn't anger, or fear, or sorrow. It was something else. Determined. Changed.


That night, as he was lying in bed, he got a message over the holo from her. When he read it, he felt his world change a little forever.


Don't believe everything you hear about Alderaan. Something is very wrong with the Empire. I'm leaving, tonight, and I'm not coming back. I hope that maybe, one day, I'll see you again. If I don't, thank you for showing me freedom, even only for an hour. Delete this message immediately after reading it. Stay safe.













  Past Life
by Rogue

"Transport shuttle Kappa five niner, you are cleared to land in the primary hangar."

"Copy control, making approach to primary hanger, Kappa fiver niner out." The pilot of the Zeta class shuttle guided the transport shuttle under the Victory class destroyer and approached the main hangar of the warship. As the shuttle started to make its way along the underside, she activated the switch that brought the four wings up into the landing position as the shuttle's landing gear started to extend downwards. The pilot called out to her passengers. "Landing sequence started, we'll be down in a few seconds."

Wraith became fully alert and sat upright in his seat. "Understood." He adjusted the sling that was supporting his right arm before checking the dressing on his right leg, blood was just starting to seep through. Wraith wasn't overly concerned about his leg wound though, he was almost onboard a friendly ship and would be soon in the sick bay getting his injuries attended to. He looked over to his unconscious colleague, he was secured into a medical stretcher, his wounds also dressed as best as possible and the onboard auto doc was supplying him with fluids, replacing the ones lost through his wounds. Feeling the shuttle touch down, there was a slight hiss as the cargo ramp was lowered down onto the hangers deck. Before the ramp had even finished, a medical team was rushing up the ramp and swarming around Wraith's colleague. Two of them picked up the stretcher and started making their way down the ramp.

The ship's Doctor gave an order to the two medical orderlies that were carrying the stretcher. "Get him to the medical bay right away, he's stable but needs immediate attention."

"Yes Ma'am," one of them replied as they steadily made their way off the shuttle.

"What about you, Lieutenant?" the Doctor asked Wraith.

"I'll manage, thanks, Doc. I'll make my way to sick bay, you concentrate on Webb, please." Wraith pushed himself up and limped down the shuttle's ramp as the Doctor walked away in the same direction Webb had just been taken. He was greeted by a familiar voice when he got to the bottom.

"So what do the bad guys look like, then?"

"Their own mothers would have trouble recognising them now," Wraith replied. "Mission accomplished, Commander. All targets dealt with; their infrastructure has been seriously disrupted, along with their standing with the locals"

"Excellent, so what happened?" asked the Commander.

Wraith was making his way towards the hangar's exit, his Commander easily keeping up with him. "We'd carried out our primary and secondary tasks of the mission and were making our way to the extraction site, but intelligence missed the fact that they had two T-16's. They must have been out on patrol or scouting when we got there otherwise we'd have been able to deal with them beforehand. First thing Webb and myself knew was when our skimmer started taking fire. We both managed to get clear before it went up, but we both got caught in the blast wave of the exploding skimmer, Webb taking the worst of it. I managed to bring one down, took out the pilot -- with more luck than skill since I was still pretty fuzzy when I took the shot -- and the pilot of our shuttle took out the other T-16. They were too busy lining up on us to notice her and by the time they did... it was too late."

"I look forward to reading your report, Lieutenant, and, seeing as you're going to be off duty for the next few days due to your injuries, I will expect it on my desk first thing in two days from now," the Commander said with a wry smile on her lips.

"As always, Commander, you're all heart," Wraith replied, also with a smile. "So, anything major happened while we were away?"

"Why do you ask?" The Commander's left eyebrow rose up slightly.

"The crew seem kind of jumpy, on edge even," Wraith replied.

The Commander stopped and looked at Wraith. "You've been back onboard for less than five minutes, literally walked the length of the hangar, and you're asking me if something has happened -- telling me that the crew are acting differently without speaking to anyone else first? It must be a nightmare to play Sabacc with you, Lieutenant!" The Commander turned away from Wraith and started walking again. "You're right, though, something has happened. The Death Star has destroyed Alderaan."

It was Wraith who stopped this time. "You mean like they did to the city on Jedha?"

"No, Grand Moff Tarkin ordered the entire planet to be destroyed," the Commander answered.

Wraith blinked a few times as what the Commander said slowly sank in. "Holy Kriff! I knew the Death Star was powerful, but an entire planet?! Kriff!"

"Indeed, Lieutenant, Kriff indeed," Commander Rowe said.

"Do you know why?" Wraith asked.

"Grand Moff Tarkin had learned that Alderaan was being used as a major base of operations by the Rebels. The majority of the planet's population was sympathetic to the Rebellion's cause, so instead of wasting precious and valuable Imperial lives attacking and destroying the base, he opted to use the Death Star. He wanted to send out a clear message to the Rebels and the galaxy, and the Death Star has allowed him to do that in a very loud and powerful voice."

Wraith started walking again. "Has there been any fallout because of this, Ma'am?"

"Very little. With the Senate no longer trying to make overtures towards these Rebels, the Emperor is able to govern more efficiently without waiting for politicians to debate and come up with an outcome that will please everyone. The Empire is now in a strong position, the rest of the systems should now come into line and these infiltration missions of yours should start reducing as the Rebels start losing support," Commander Rowe answered.

Wraith reached the turbolift and pressed the call button. The turbolift was soon there and opened up the doors. Wraith placed his left hand on the door to keep it open as he stepped in. "I hope you're right, Commander. It's a shame about the innocent people that were on Alderaan -- there must have been some, I suppose. Cally and I were planning to go there for a holiday; I guess that's not happening now!"

"I guess not. Lieutenant, but that's the beauty of the lovely galaxy of ours; there's plenty of other destinations for you both to go to, probably safer ones, now, and more Empire friendly," she said with a smile. "Now get yourself to the medical bay. It won't be long before you're required on another mission. As you know, there's no rest for Imperial Operatives." "Understood, Commander." Wraith released the turbolift door which quickly slid shut. He pressed the button on the control panel that would take him to the level that the medical facilities were on. Speaking to himself in a quiet voice as the turbolift made its way, he muttered, "Tarkin might be good, but I think this is going to come back and bite him in his arse. A whole kriffing planet ... gone, wiped out ... just like that. Damn, and I thought I was cold!"

The turbolift doors opened on the desired level. Wraith made his way towards the med bay and entered. He saw Webb being worked on by the Doctor who had met them on the shuttle and several other medics.

"All right, Lieutenant, make your way over here and take a seat on the bed so we can take a look at your wounds."

"You got it, Doc." Wraith hobbled on over to the bed, hauled himself up and sat back.

"Name?" the medic asked Wraith.

"Wraith," the Operative replied straight away.

"I said name, not callsign, Lieutenant."

"Sorry, Doc, force of habit. Paul Sweet, Lieutenant. Imperial Operative, Nexu division."












  When it Rains
By Lock, Gremlin, and Frosty

[Classified Location]

Rain poured like crazy against the window of his office like it always did. It pounded, and its sound was a constant buzz to the ticking of the old fashioned clock that hung on the wall, slowly counting the seconds away. Turning every minute into an eternity.

It was a rather large room, enough to fit three desks. Two of them were at the front of the room, facing each other so that there was a walkway through the two that lead up to the final desk, that of their superior, with its back to the window. All three desks had a personal terminal to the base database and all had stacks of datapads, flimsi papers and pens, reports of the latest simulator runs that the test pilots had gone through.

In the first of the two desks sat the gray-furred male Shistavanen, Sonn "Berserker" Ryles, and across from him the diminutive female Sullustan, Diah "Alien" Drugo. They were hard at work, sifting through the datapads while accessing their terminals. Every once in a while they would say something to each other, some remark about a student or how they might better their training methods this way or that, in a vain attempt to pique the interest of the officer in charge.

He was dressed in a blue flight suit that had two patches on it; the Rebel Insignia on his left shoulder and his status as an instructor on his right shoulder. His black boots were propped up on the table as he held the same piece of flimsi that he'd had been revising for the last half hour. Across his chest, just like with Alien and Berserker, was his callsign. The man was Lieutenant Roy "Lock" Callahan, leader of the instructors at Rainworld Academy (as it was unofficially known, as its name was classified) in X-Wing piloting He was the staunch rival of Lieutenant Aidem and his Y-Wing group, both of which answered to Captain Amonos, a Y-Wing pilot himself, and leader of the Starfighter Pilot Training Division at the rainy Training Facility.

"Cadet Nath's record was broken," mentioned Alien, glancing over to her boss for a moment. He didn't lift his eyes from his paper, so she sighed and continued. "By Cadet Gemilan."

Lock's eyes lifted from the paper and darted to Alien. "She's the Zeltron, right?"

"Yes, she is."

"Who's Nath, again?"

Alien sighed in resignation, probably already expecting this. "I told you last week, sir. Cadet Nath. Devaronian." When Lock continued staring at her, she added, "Toro."

"Ohhhh, Toro!" Lock nodded, and sat forward, placing his flimsi down on the desk.

Berserker snorted. "Typical."

"Typical what?"

"Typical, sir, that you remember the beautiful Zeltron woman every time but seem to forget half of the pilots in the training group most of the time." The wolfman turned his head towards Lock for the first time.

"Hey!" Lock held his hands up. "It's not my fault that some students stick out more than others."

"Just like Cadet Liorca sticks out? Or Drill Sergeant Zolos?"

"I have a weakness for Twi'leks--sue me."

"I don't have to, they are probably already both drawing up papers about how you always stare at their assets when you think they aren't looking."

"Aha! But I'm only looking, Zerk, so they can't file charges!"

"Will you two calm down?" Alien elevated her voice, quieting the two males. "For Force sake, you two! You're supposed to be military officers!"

"Tell him to act like one, then, instead of pushing all the work on us and--"

"It's called delegation--" Roy interjected.

"--ogling all the women on base!"

"It's not ogling, I'm responsible for making sure they're in fit condition--"

"Stop! Both of you!" Alien cut both of them off again before it could go any further. "Sonn, it's our part of the work and, sir, you should stop staring at all of us."

"Us? Was he looking at you?" asked Berserker. Roy decided to say nothing, preferring to wait for Alien.

She, on the other hand, was somewhat confused. "Well--yes, right? You said that he was looking at all the women on base." She narrowed her eyes as the much larger wolfman cringed somewhat. "Right, Sonn?"

"Uhm, well, yeah, I-I guess--I didn't mean all of them..." Berserker's unplanned attempt trickled to death by the glare that Alien awarded him. "Sorry."

"Were you discriminating against me, Dogbreath?" Alien snapped at the larger male. "I think you and I need to step outside!"

"I'm not going to fight you, Alien."

"Why not? Afraid to get your butt beaten by an ugly girl, are you?"

"I never said you were ug--"

"Calm down, you two," Lock finally said, standing up and waving his hands down to relax them. "You've both got work to do, no time for arguing."

They looked at him for a moment before muttering "Yessir..." and returning to the work at hand.

Lock stood watching them for a few moments more before sitting back down in his chair and picking up the same piece of flimsi he had been staring at before: a proposition from High Command to start selecting candidates for a new X-Wing squadron that an old friend was assembling. He narrowed his eyes, wondering what was up -- he knew that none of the cadets were ready and Command knew that as well from the reports he'd been sending them. He'd barely received this last batch. Maybe a few like Toro or Rider or Sensei or Gremlin were ... but it was still too early to be completely sure.

Rain poured like crazy against the window of his office, like it always did. It pounded, its sound a constant buzz to the ticking of the old-fashioned clock that hung on the wall, slowly counting the seconds away. Turning every minute into an eternity.

Meanwhile, the Death Star fired on Alderaan.

* * *

[Classified Location, Cadet Barracks]

She had died 17 times already. She would probably die once more before the day was through.

Flight Cadet Gemilan lay on her bunk, wide-eyed and wakeful, staring at the bottom of the bed above. The last simulator run had been bruising in every sense of the word. They had been jumped by some TIEs in atmosphere and the resulting dogfight had seen her slammed from side to side in the tiny X-wing capsule. At least she had survived, that time, but whenever she closed her eyes she re-lived fragments of the battle, her hands twitching with moves she could, should, have made.

Frak, she hoped she'd beaten Toro's record in that sim! The Devaronian had been unbearable since taking the lead. Gemi might not be the most intuitive pilot in the training squadron but what she lacked in natural skills, she tried to make up for with practice. It would be sweet to see her name at the top of the board, even for an hour or two. But it would be sweeter, right now, to be able to sleep ...

Gemi turned on her side, punching the pillow in frustration. Training at Rainworld Academy was intense; the Rebellion seemed intent on turning them into fighter pilots as quickly as possible. Inside the competitive atmosphere of the training facility, sealed away from communication with the outside world, the pressure was relentless - no doubt mirroring the life they'd lead when, or rather if, they graduated to a fighter squadron. Cadets learned to rest whenever they could, snatching sleep at odd moments before being called to yet another surprise drill. Gemi could usually doze off wherever she happened to be but this time, in the relative comfort of her bed, sleep eluded her.

The door to the barracks hissed open, casting a familiar shadow over the wall opposite Gemi's head. She turned round.

"Hey, Gremlin." Sensei, the multi-limbed Xexto, was frequently her wingmate on live training flights and in the sims. They were the oldest and youngest cadets, yet they'd formed a bond between them. Odd; she liked it when he called her Gremlin, yet she'd hated the nickname when the McCauleys had given it to her. She had been furious when they had told her the meaning of the word, taking it as an insult to her engineering skills, but now she saw it in a different light. Jack McCauley - where was he now?

Pushing aside her thoughts, she propped herself on one elbow to smile at Sensei. "Hey yourself. So did you survive, that time?" It had become a grim joke, to keep a tally of the number of times they had 'died' in sims. Death was not unknown to the trainees: two cadets had already been lost in live flying exercises. Virtual death was preferable, despite the embarrassment.

Sensei stretched, four arms making his modified flight suit bulge strangely. "This time. Don't know about next." The Basic words sounded odd in his accent, but Gemi was used to his speech by now. She grinned.

"Ah, don't worry, you've still got a long way to go before you reach my score. I've been trying to get some sleep before the next session so I don't make it 18, but I just can't." Gemi swung her legs over the side of her bed, tossing her long plait of purple hair over one shoulder. She aimed a winsome smile at her wingmate. "I don't suppose you'd fancy some one-on-one time before the next drill? It might even make us sleepy ..."

Sensei hooted with laughter, as he always did when Gemi propositioned him. "Why don't I talk philosophy to you instead? That always puts you to sleep." It was a running joke between them; Gemi shook her head, pantomiming horror at the thought.

The Xexto tilted his elongated head to regard her, noting the dark circles under her eyes, the tension in her shoulders. "I could give you a massage," he suggested, quietly. "Or a hug."

The unexpected offer brought a lump to her throat. Her voice was husky. "A hug, please. If I have a massage, I don't think I'll wake up for days." Gemi stood, hitching the hated flight suit into place, and stepped into Sensei's embrace, not caring that she had to stoop to lay her head against his. They stood together, Zeltron and Xexto, for several minutes until Gemilan sighed and straightened up, managing a smile.

"It's only 17 deaths, after all. How much harder can it get?"

And on Alderaan billions died, foreshadowing events to come.

* * *

[Rebel Base, Yavin 4]

The Rimward Liberty was more than just an ugly ship. It was beautiful, in its ugliness, like many a Class 720, but it was more odd-looking with many panels missing or strange sizes. It looked like it had been assembled from scrap and there was some truth to that. It was as old as the Empire, more dilapidated then a moisture farmer's speeder and about as clean as Jack McCauley's jacket.

That jacket was currently wrapped around the main fuel feed of the Liberty, thoroughly soaked in lubricant. A small puddle of the substance had dripped off the jacket's sleeve and onto the floor, which was currently responsible for the bump on the back of Jack's head. He lay on the floor, cursing silently, as the lubricant dripped from his boot to the floor again, almost guaranteeing that this was a process that would be repeated.

"Wha'cha doing down there, man?"

Jack glanced round to the inquisitive face of Wrench, the Tintinnan mechanic. His little beady eyes were blinking in incomprehension and his rat nose had wrinkled in confusion at the sight of Jack on the floor.

"Oh, just relaxing, Wrench. What's going down?"

"Big bad stuff Jack, big bad stuff." The little rodent shook his head, "It's really horrible."

Jack shrugged, pulled himself to a sitting position and dug a lighter and cigarette out of his pocket before placing the cigarette in his mouth. Wrench shook his head in panic as Jack lit the cigarette. "The fuel line is just there!"

"You worry too much," Jack said, taking a puff. "So, what's a-shaking? I saw a few teary faces around."

"Well.....it's the Empire ..."

"It's always the Empire," Jack scoffed.

"This time it's really, really big. They used this new type of weapon or something."


"Alderaan. It's gone."

Jack raised an eyebrow. "Gone? Planets don't disappear."

"No, no, not like missing. Like .... destroyed."

Jack took a deeper puff. "Well....."

There was a silence and Wrench let Jack digest the news. He'd noticed a lot of the humans had seemed more affected than most other species, not that surprising really. Eventually Jack spoke again.

"Can you help me fix this fuel line?"

Wrench gave Jack a quizzical look. "I do not understand humans sometimes."

"What? I'm not from Alderaan. It ain't nothing to do with me."

"What do you mean, nothing to do with you? It has everything to do with us! Does it not make you angry? The way the Empire can get away with this?"

Jack shrugged. "They do worse every day, just in places you don't hear about. No point getting all upset about it."

"A whole planet! Gone! Do you not realise what this means they could do to us?"

A puff of smoke accompanied the shake of McCauley's head, "You mean you. There is no 'us'."

Wrench looked really confused now. "So you're not part of the Alliance, now?"

"I've always preferred to think of myself as a private contractor," Jack said, pulling himself up so he was standing.

"But you have a rank."

"Got to have a rank to get paid."

There was more silence as Wrench started to help fix the fuel line. He seemed slightly bothered by Jack's attitude, but Jack was slightly bothered by the little rodent's prodding. Didn't aliens get when it was best to just drop the subject?

After a while the silence was broken by Wrench. "So where are you running to next?"

"Got to take a shed-load of things to Rainworld Academy. Apparently they want more supplies."

"Rainworld? That's a long way away from here..."

"Yep. At least a week of hopping from system to system, trading supplies and picking up people where I need to. Lot of things the Alliance want to be taken to and from Rainworld."

"It's a pilot academy, right?"

"Aye. A lot of cocky flyboys."

"But you fly?"

"Not the same. Dunno if they might want to rope me in for their exercises too - always fun having newbies completely failing to escort me and my shuttle out of hot zones."

"Aren't you worried about patrols? I heard the Imperial presence has gotten heavier recently."

"I ain't worried about me, Wrench. I have my agreements with the local authorities. In fact I know exactly when and where I'll be boarded and I'll comply fully with their demands. Often better than running away. But you ought to be worried."


"I heard that precious princess of yours has disappeared, probably with the rest of Alderaan. If she's been captured, the Imps are probably not far off knowing about this place. With a planet killer on their side, you ain't got much hope."

Wrench went very quiet as he continued to work on the fuel line. After a while Jack spoke up. "That Lucy, she's from Alderaan, right?"

"Yes," Wrench said cautiously.

"Perhaps I should comfort her."

Wrench let out a sigh and continued to work on the pipe as Jack leant against it, puffing away on his cigarette.

* * *

Above Yavin, several wings of fighters carried the hopes of the Rebellion against the greatest weapon ever built. Laser cannons fired retina-searing pulses and TIE fighters harried the brave pilots as they attempted the trench run, seeking the tiny exhaust port which could destroy the advancing Death Star.

Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, far far away ...

[Classified Location]

"If I'd wanted to be a ground-pounder, I'd have joined the frakking marines," Gemilan grumbled, crouching behind a log as two flight-suited cadets ran past, their orange coveralls vivid against the greenery. "Wait - who's that ...?"

She ducked down, pressing her face into the earth, the smell of leafmould and damp filling her nostrils. Sensei, who had risked peeking out - his natural colouring blended more easily with the jungle surroundings - scrunched back into a tangle of limbs and breathed, "Alien and Berserker. Looks like they're chasing Hacker and someone else. We must be close."

"Close, yeah?" Gemi's face was liberally daubed with mud to conceal as much of her red skin as possible. "Dunno how much closer we can get without being seen ..." She winced as blasters whined in the direction of the fleeing cadets and a flurry of shouts erupted. "Guess that's them caught, then," she finished with a sigh.

"Indeed." The single, dry word was evocative of a philosophy professor, which had been his peace-time role; in contrast, the Xexto's appearance was that of a fugitive. He and Gemi had shed their distinctive orange flight-suits within seconds of being dumped in the jungle as part of a survival exercise. Sensei hid his second set of arms beneath a dull brown under-robe while Gemi had soaked her white singlet and shorts in a puddle to darken them - on Rainworld, there were plenty of mud-baths to choose from. More mud streaked her smooth skin, breaking up the red expanse.

Gemi frowned, consulting the hand-drawn map which had been their sole source of direction for the duration of the exercise. "I think we're meant to get over there," she pointed east, "but how we do it, I don't know." She had no desire to be 'tagged' by the modified blasters, having been warned that they stung. Knowing that the effects wore off within half an hour was cold comfort.

She turned to the Xexto, who was gazing skywards with a strange look on his narrow face. "Sensei? A little help ...?" but he cut her off with a gesture and pointed up. Up, towards the canopy of trees that stretched overhead, thick branches all but interlocking, like a road-map pointing towards .... Gemi drew in her breath and glanced back at her fellow cadet. Her smile was feral. "Let's do it!"

The climb was harder than they had expected. Sensei's extra limbs came in handy; he could cling onto the tree and still stretch down a couple of hands to help Gemilan. Equally, there were times when her greater height helped them reach the next level, but finally they both sprawled across one of the largest branches, catching their breath before the next stage of the plan.

Their new route was slippery with moss and littered with the nests of some small creatures who scattered dung liberally around their homes. Gemi scrunched up her nose as they picked their way past the first set of nests, clinging to the upper branches to help keep their balance. "That stuff stinks!" she whispered to Sensei, trying to keep her boots away from the mess. By the time they had been in the canopy for an hour, though, she had forgotten about her desire for cleanliness and was ploughing through patch after patch of guano, intent on keeping upright and avoiding discovery by the instructors who had been set to catch them.

"Who needs survival exercises, anyway?" she groused to Sensei as they took a brief rest and a gulp of lukewarm water from the single bottle they'd been allowed. "If I'm shot down I'll just surrender, then escape!"

The Xexto smiled. "Ah, the impetuousness of youth. They're not just teaching us about survival, Gremlin. We're meant to be developing teamwork, lateral thinking, strategy - all skills that will be useful to us in our X-wings, too."

Gemi looked doubtful. "Really? I just think it's a chance for Lock the Cock to show how wonderful he is. 'Ooh, look, I can shoot unarmed cadets for real, not just in the sims!'" She shook her head, sending her wet tail of hair whipping back and forwards. "He wouldn't be so quick to do this if he was up here, facing a blaster up the backside if he's caught!"

"He probably did something like this too, in his training. There's a reason why we're being put through this, Gremlin." Sensei's voice was soothing. "Come on. We can't be far away now. Let's see if we can be the first cadets ever to make it to the end without getting caught!"

The notion fired Gemi's enthusiasm once more and she followed the Xexto with renewed vigour, though her thoughts were focused more upon the indignities she'd like to commit on Lieutenant Lock than the eventual outcome of the exercise.

A short while later, the cadets crouched next to the trunk of one of the largest trees they had negotiated so far. Their eventual destination - a beacon set atop a case of supplies - was lying in the middle of a small clearing, easily visible from above. They were discussing in whispers how best to approach their goal when the sound of footsteps below drew their attention. Gemi and Sensei froze as Lock himself appeared, talking quietly into a portable comm.

"Yes - Sensei and Gremlin are the only two left. Any sign of them where you are?" A brief burble from the commlink. "Right. I'll meet you here, then." The comm clicked off and Lock pulled something from his pocket - a ration pack, by the sound of the covering being ripped off and the chewing that ensued.

Gemi's stomach grumbled; she put both hands over her belly and hugged, hoping Lock couldn't hear the sound. The Lieutenant was standing directly beneath one of the clusters of nests. She wished that one of the little creatures which inhabited the nests would choose that moment to evacuate its rear end over Lock's head. It was a pleasant thought, but not the most important one in her mind.

To Sensei, she pointed in the direction of the clearing and mouthed, "Go for it! I'll watch him." At least if Sensei made it to the beacon, it would hopefully count as a team victory. The Xexto looked like he was going to demur, but he was higher up the tree than Gemi and in a perfect position to clamber across the branches. He gave a brief nod of his flexible neck and slithered off, looking like a demented insect with his spiky limbs.

Gemilan was left watching Lieutenant Lock. Her eyes kept getting drawn to the nests. There was a large pile of guano perched precariously close to the edge of the branch. If only she could nudge it - just ever so slightly - so it plopped over onto him .... oh, what sweet revenge it would be for dumping them all in this rain-sodden, stinking jungle!

Sensei was closing in on the beacon, now. Gemi was torn between watching him and trying, ever so slightly, to shake the branch with the nests on it. She was about to give it another jiggle when two more instructors appeared - Alien and Berserker, both wearing combat fatigues like Lock's, far more suited to the jungle surroundings than the cadets' poisonous orange. Gemilan huddled against the trunk, keeping one eye on Sensei and the other on the meeting taking place below. Berserker, the grey-furred Shistavanen, waved one arm in the direction of the beacon, did a double-take and shouted.

It all happened very quickly after that.

Realising he had been spotted, Sensei scuttled along the branches, seeking to drop to the ground near the beacon and turn it on to signify a successful escape. Berserker raised his blaster; Lock and Alien were split-seconds behind. Gemi yelled and jumped from her hiding-place, heading for the branch with the nests, rather than towards the beacon. The vibrations from her movement made the guano shift, sending a sizable quantity of dung splattering over Lieutenant Lock, who unfortunately happened to be looking up to see where the shout had come from. The noise and movement startled Berserker, whose shot went wide, and Sensei slapped the beacon's top, setting off the klaxon to declare that the exercise had finally been won.

Gemi was laughing even as Alien tagged her.

* * *

"It's a shame he didn't believe that it was an accident," Gemi said later, once they'd showered away the sweat and stench from the jungle.

"Well, you were heading away from the beacon," Sensei pointed out, but the Zeltron shook her head.

"I was trying to divert attention from you. Clearly I wasn't going to head towards the beacon." She gave him an innocent look before dipping the brush appropriated from a cleanbot into a bucket of acrid-smelling disinfectant. "At least you sounded the klaxon. Seledesnoi, first-ever winner of the survival challenge!"

The Xexto chuckled, sounding like a squeaky hinge. "It was a joint effort. We worked together to achieve success - just as wingmates are supposed to do."

"Indeed!" Gemi grinned at her unlikely friend. "Now buzz off, you, and don't do anything to get this bathroom dirtier than it already is. I've got to get it cleaned up by midnight, remember!"

Left alone in the tiled, echoing facility, Gemilan relived the moment when the guano had splattered all over Lieutenant Lock. It had been worth it. It had so been worth it!

And in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin, with the remains of the Death Star turning to meteorites in the night sky, the same sentiment was being echoed by the leaders of the Rebellion. They had just won their first major fight against the Empire. Despite the losses, the pilots and ships sent to their doom, it had been worth it.

* * *

[Deep Space; four days ABY]

The Rimward Liberty drifted through space limply, its engines shut down. Jack sat at the ship's controls, waiting patiently. In a matter of an hour his Rebel contact would arrive and transfer someone onto his ship, to be taken on to Rainworld. In the meantime, he would wait here for the Imps to show up.

Jack had made an agreement with the local sector commander, the same he made with every Imperial official that was a threat to his business. The sector commander would appear with his personal shuttle, board his ship, take the bribe, then leave after giving Jack the all clear to travel through this area. It was an agreement that benefitted both of them.

At least, that was Jack's thinking till he saw an Imperial Star Destroyer appear. Hastily Jack flicked a big switch covered in a red safety marker; all of his ship's power shut down, bar life support. He was just drifting through space, practically invisible to sensors.

It was tense as the Star Destroyer moved past Jack, several klicks away. Jack could just about make out the shape of the huge ship and could only hope that his much smaller craft was almost impossible to see in the blackness of space. A few minutes later, the Star Destroyer hyperspaced out of the region.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Jack sat back at the controls and continued his waiting. Things were only going to get tougher for the Alliance from here on out.

* * *

[Classified Location; one week ABY]

Perhaps the thing that he disliked the most about this planet was that it was always raining.

When you woke up, it rained. Throughout the day, it rained. When you went to bed, it rained. Most times it was so rainy and dark outside that it was impossible to tell whether it was day or night on the Force-forsaken planet. Then again, it was probably the reason that the Empire ignored its existence and the reason why the Rebel Alliance had made a training base here. At least it wasn't under siege like Yavin was, so new recruits could learn whatever they needed to.

The planet didn't even have a name, at least not a real one. In part it was because up until the Rebels had made it a base it was uninhabited; in part because if it did have a name, then it would exist ... and the last thing that anyone needed was for this place to officially exist. New recruits came here by shuttles piloted only by the most trusted pilots in the Rebellion. The place was nicknamed Rainworld Academy.

Lieutenant Roy "Lock" Callahan stared out the large glass window, sighing before he finally decided to give up. So much rain and condensation had fogged up the window that it was impossible to see anything through it anyway. He held a mug of lukewarm hot chocolate in his right hand and lifted it up to his lips, taking a slight sip of the thick, chocolatey drink before he turned around and closed the ground between the window and his office in no more than three quick steps.

The heels of his black boots sounded against the metallic floor, creating that damned clacking sound that he was so tired of listening to. He wore a blue flight suit with his rank insignia and name tag. On his left shoulder was the insignia of the Rebel Alliance and on his right a patch labeling him one of the instructors on this base. He put down the mug on the desk and sat down in his chair before running his hands through his black hair and sighing. The Corellian glanced momentarily at the stack of datapads on his desk before closing his dark eyes and leaning back into his chair. None of its padding was very comfortable at the moment ... he was at the point of wishing he was back in an ejection seat again.

"Dammit ... I never should've left active duty..." he muttered to himself. His right leg started to bounce impatiently and he set his hand on it in an attempt to stop it. Lock was starting to feel antsy ... he needed to get behind a stick. He wanted out of this hellhole, out of this damned rainy world. There wasn't even alcohol and the few women there he couldn't touch because they were either his trainees or his co-workers. Talk about torture. "Force forsaken rain..."

He was just starting to consider hitting on that female Twi'lek drill sergeant when there was a knock at his door. Lock looked at it, surprised. It was an hour before the daily drills began; the pilot trainees weren't usually even awake at this hour if they could help it -- Lock and the other instructors made sure that they were too exhausted to even consider consciousness at these hours.

"Enter," he replied after a moment. The door slid open and Lock was shocked to see who stood in the opening.

The man was at least a head taller than Lock and, though only thirty at the most, already balding. His whole left arm was a mechanical replacement and he had a beard and goatee which many men would be jealous of. He was broad shouldered and wore an orange flight suit with the rank insignia of Captain, though Lock didn't need that clue to know who this man was. The man grinned and held up a hand in greeting while Lock simply stared at him, unsure of how to react. He hadn't seen Dirr "Jet" Sol since he had left Bantha Squadron over a month ago.

"What's wrong, Lock?" asked the man, his deep voice booming. "You seemed shocked to see me, hahaha!"

"I never expected to see you again, Jet." Lock replied, serious. He looked at the grinning man for a moment more before an answering smile started to grow on his lips, against his own will. After a few moments he gave in, shaking his head. "Damned old bastard, what brings you here?"

Jet's grin widened. "Knew that you couldn't have become a grumpy old instructor by now!" he told Lock and walked into the room, taking the seat in front of the Corellian's desk. "I'm actually the bearer of good and bad news." He suddenly became more serious. "You may not like some of it ..."

"Well, at least it's news. We don't have the holonet -- this place is so secret that there's a communications blackout." He eyed Jet suspiciously before leaning forwards. "Which makes me wonder how you knew I was here?"

"I know my way around the Rebellion," Jet replied with a hint of a smirk.

"Right." Lock sat back in his chair. "So, what's the news, then?"

"Well, let's start with the 'good' news first, shall we?"

Lock looked at the man expectantly. "Yeah?"

"You're being reassigned," Jet told him. "The Rebellion needs all the pilots it can get, especially pilots of your caliber. You're being wasted here ... piloting a desk? Training recruits? It's all good, I suppose, but you and I both know that you belong in a cockpit!"

Lock leaned back into his chair and looked at Jet for a few moments. A few moments earlier he'd been wishing for a ticket off this rock, but now that he had it he wasn't so sure. "Jet... you know why I stopped flying."

"I do, and you also know that everyone agrees that what happened was not your fault. There was nothing you could've done ... the only reason you're alive to feel guilty about it is because of how hot you are behind a stick." Jet leaned forward. "That's why the Rebellion needs you back in a cockpit. That's why I need you."

"You need me?"

"That's right. I'm re-forming Bantha Squadron -- I'll be needing you as my XO." Jet looked directly at Lock. "You're the only one I trust to save my ass in a pinch and still hold the unit together."

"You're exaggerating."

"I'm not." Jet's denial was flat. "In any case, you don't have a choice."

"I don't?"

"Nope. High Command has recalled all pilots. We have a serious need of them, especially after what happened... which brings me to the bad news."

Lock arched his left eyebrow.

"I suppose that you haven't heard yet, but..." Jet sighed and shook his head. "One week ago, the Emperor took its new toy for a joyride. The Death Star was built to destroy planets ... and its first test was on Alderaan. It was completely destroyed."

"You don't mean that..."

Jet nodded. "Alderaan is nothing but a field of debris. I saw it myself -- I was in the squadron sent to investigate." He shook his head. "It was... horrible."

"Hawkeye?" Lock's throat was tight as he asked the question.

"Hanging in there. I spoke to her after it happened." Jet replied. "Her family was on the planet ..."

Lock looked down, not sure of what to say.

"She asked about you," Jet added after a moment.

Still, Lock did not reply. After a moment Jet simply continued.

"The Death Star's next target after Alderaan was the Rebel base at Yavin. Luckily, some farmboy from Tatooine -- something Skywalker is his name -- was able to destroy it but it cost us too many pilots. That's why you're being recalled, as well as everyone who's available on this base." Jet leaned back into his chair. "I hope you trained those new recruits well, Lock ..."

"Why?" Lock looked up at Jet.

"Because you're going to select the best pilots out of the batch, and they're going to form the new Bantha Squadron."

* * *

[Classified Location; one week ABY]

Rainworld was distinctly unimpressive to the observer from space. The constant swirling clouds made it look like a grey gas giant, but it was much smaller with no moons of its own. In the berth next to the pilot seat the little R2 unit had chittered away, satisfied that it had completed its mission of guiding the freighter Rimward Liberty safely to the secret destination. The light on the unit's dome had flashed rapidly as it commenced a memory wipe. Jack McCauley had watched with some amusement. How could something be so willing to throw away its existence like that?

In the co-pilot's seat, his passenger - a pilot known only as Jet - had sighed at the sight of the little cloudy pearl. "Looks wet down there."

Jack had liked Jet. Almost as soon as he had stepped aboard Jack's ship it had become clear that they both liked their own personal space. They had quickly established opposite sleep patterns, so one could watch the ship whilst the other slept. If only all passengers were that easy. "Yeah, just a little."

Now that they had arrived at their planetary destination, McCauley fiddled with the comm equipment at his seat, tuning into frequency bands normally discarded as junk due to interference from nearby stars. After a little while, he'd settled on a strong repeating signal. The nav computer came alive and the freighter pressed forward, McCauley guiding the ship through the upper atmosphere of Rainworld and into the constant mist surrounding the planet. Next to him Jet had tensed a little and Jack smirked; like many a pilot, Jet didn't care for being a passenger instead of in control.

The signal grew stronger and stronger until McCauley slowed suddenly, gently lowering the ship. The clouds finally broke at low level and out of the viewport they could see the pilot academy, a small collection of buildings amongst the lashing rain. Jet had stood first, eager to stretch his legs; with a word of thanks he had departed, heading towards the largest building in a crisp walk. McCauley had lingered a while longer, going over his cargo manifest one more time. Fuel, spare parts, rations. Nothing exciting apart from the secret cargo manifest, in the smuggling hold: alcohol for his most regular customer. Wherever he was.

He stepped off the ship, looking through the manifest disinterestedly, and approached the nearest person he saw out of the corner of his eye. "Hey, who's in charge here?"

It had been a quiet day but at least the duty shift, though boring, was a change from getting shot at in sims. Gemi settled her belt around her narrow hips and walked towards the newcomer, running a professional eye across the beaten-up 720 as she went. She was attuned to the rain now; it didn't bother her.

"Well, officially it's Captain Amonos who's in charge but right here and now, in this hanger, that'd be me. Officer Of The Day, Cadet Pilot Gemilan, at your ....." The Zeltron broke off abruptly, staring at the man in front of her.

"Jack? Jack McCauley? Is that you?"

His eyes focused on her, finally taking her in fully. She was shapely, attractive with beautiful flowing purple hair. Upsetting that she already knew his name, he'd probably had a one night stand with her before and now he was going to have to find ...



It couldn't be. Could it?

"Well, I'll be damned! Gremlin." His face dropped into a smile and he suddenly wrapped her in a bear hug, as inside his mind was torn. "Look at you, you little Rebel! What are the odds, huh?!"

Initially she hesitated to respond, remembering all too clearly his last words to her: harsh, cutting, hurtful. She'd tried one last time to convince him to stay on the Dropkick Murphy with her, but he'd turned her down, saying he never wanted to see her again. The hug, however, took her by surprise. It had been so long since she'd seen him - and she had always felt a little spark of attraction to him. And she hadn't had a hug since Sensei ....

"What are the odds, yeah ..." she murmured, reaching up with her free hand to touch his cheek. Her other hand, still holding his datapad, had of its own volition crept up to the small of his back. "What've you been doing since - since we ... since we last saw each other?" She hastily censored any mention of Connor.

He flashed her a winning smile, careful to avoid looking her directly in the eyes. "Ah, well, you know. Bits and pieces. Getting up to trouble, meeting cute girls. Then I heard about this whole Rebellion thing, heard there was some good credits."

She stiffened slightly at the mention of cute girls, but linking the Rebellion to a money-making opportunity was ... unexpected. Gemi leaned back just enough to meet his gaze, her brow furrowed. Did he really mean that?

Looking at her directly for a second was too much for him to handle; he moved closer, his lips close to her ears. He had missed her, really had, for the year or more they'd been apart. He'd thrown her away and just days later he'd longed for her to be with him, holding him as he found himself overwhelmed with grief again. McCauley hated to admit this weakness to himself - how dare she do this to him?

Jack put on the smoothest voice he could. "Don't tell anyone, Gremlin, but I'm actually a top spy, on a daring mission for Alliance intelligence. Super spy stuff."

She chuckled quietly, enjoying the sensation of his breath tickling her ear. He was teasing her, as he'd used to do in the days aboard the Dropkick Murphy when they'd all been travelling to Pantolomin together. When she'd pretended to be annoyed by the nickname Gremlin, while secretly enjoying the banter between them.

His free hand brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "Listen. You're not still mad at me, are you? I know I was a little grumpy when we left off but.... well .... don't you think it's kind of fate that the galaxy brought me back to you?"

That made her laugh out loud. "Jack! That sounds like a holonovela ... I thought you said you hated them?" But it had been a long time since she'd seen him; people did change - and he had hugged her first. Gemi glanced down, biting her lip, then sighed and looked up again.

"Yes, I was mad. At first, anyway. I missed you. A lot." Her violet gaze was open and trusting. "But ... well, maybe there is a reason why we're here together, whatever it is you're doing for the Rebellion. Maybe ...." she tilted her head back, her lips an invitation, "maybe the galaxy knows what it's doing?" It was a play on the title of her favourite holonovela - What The Galaxy Knows - back when she'd been a teenager on Zeltron, before she left home as a crewmember on the Murphy. Before she'd met the McCauleys.

His eyes finally met hers and the smile grew wider on Jack's lips; he moved his hand from her hair to cover his mouth, suppressing a grin. He refused to allow her to make him break first. "I don't know much about the galaxy, darling, but I know this much. Only Jedi know the future. And right now? Right here? I think I feel the Force."

He swung her, now laughing proudly at his god-awful verbal play. "I'm not gonna shut up if you don't kiss me!"

She was surprised into a squeal that turned to laughter. "I didn't think you'd remember that!" Connor and Jack had teased her so much after discovering her store of holos on board the Murphy. Together, they had watched some of the worst ones, including a truly terrible story about the near-mythical Jedi that skirted into holoporn territory. Regaining her feet, Gremlin pressed her body against his, twining her free hand into his hair. "Maybe I should kiss you, then - just to make you stop talking, of course ...."

Nearby, someone cleared their throat and the two froze. Behind Jack, unnoticed till now, was a blue-uniformed man: Gremlin's training officer. Lock stood, eyebrow raised, tapping his datapad gently on the palm of his hand.

"I think you just remembered there is something very important you need to do," Lock advised Gremlin, looking directly into the red-skinned pilot's purple eyes.

There were several different answers which she wanted to give him, but there was only one which might avoid demerits and disciplinary action. Gremlin sighed and took a step backwards, out of Jack's arms, saying with only a hint of reluctance, "Yes, sir." But as she turned to go, she gave Jack a wink and a secret smile.

"Do you kiss every cadet you run into?" Lock asked the transport pilot when she was finally gone. They'd met once or twice before, but hadn't exchanged much more than credits.

Jack watched her go, sighing as she left. "Only the pretty ones. Especially if I know it'll piss you off." McCauley shook a head at the Lieutenant, a real uptight bastard. "Don't know how you do it, you know? All those pretty cadets hanging on your every word and you just have to keep it professional. Must be hard eh?"

"Was that a dick joke?" Lock asked, amused by the other man's willingness to step into danger. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Actually, I don't care. Just keep your hands off of my cadets -- it's hard enough making sure they keep their hands off of each other." There was a heavy sigh. "Any trouble on your way in?"

A death stick was lit, before Jack offered the packet to Lock. "Nothing major. Had to run dark for a while but don't worry, your precious cargo is safe. Although with what happened, Imperial patrols are stepping up. Prices are going to go up, buddy...."

* * *

[Classified Location; two weeks ABY]

Eight pilots of varying races sat in the circular briefing room at Rainworld Academy. Its amphitheatre form led down towards a holoprojector that repeated the same floating image of the Rebel insignia, rotating slightly. Every few seconds the image would flicker and return to its original starting position.

The mood in the room was sullen. A week ago the cadets had all received the news of what had happened on Alderaan and Yavin. At first there had been outrage at Alderaan's destruction, but that had eventually dwindled; they knew that soon enough they would be on the front lines and most of them probably wouldn't survive the next year. It was a statistical probability that they would die within their first five missions, if they didn't have the bad luck of finding themselves in a major battle right away; then their chances of death grew exponentially. Some cadets had attempted to resign their commissions, others had tried to find different ways out. One thing was clear, though: the war against the Empire was only going to escalate in the near future.

The doors at the back of the room opened and through them stepped two pilots, Diah "Alien" Drugo, a female Sullustan, and Lieutenant Sonn "Berserker" Ryles, an imposing gray-furred Shistavanen. They were already wearing flight suits instead of their more familiar uniforms, though all eight pilots recognized them as two of the flight instructors at the base. After a moment the two made their way down the steps and sat in the front row closest to the holoprojector, waiting silently for the last people to arrive.

One of the pilots there, a Xexto who was probably the oldest sentient in the room, sat in the middle of the pack. Seledesnoi, or 'Sensei' as the others called him, craned his long neck to the left where a young and beautiful red-skinned Zeltron woman sat in her orange flight suit. "What do you think we were called here for?"

Gemilan, now known as Gremlin, simply shrugged and motioned towards the back of the room. "I think we're about to find out."

Right on cue the doors slid open and two men walked through. One, the bald one, they did not recognize but the other was the Corellian instructor, Lock. They walked straight down to the bottom of the amphitheatre, then moved to either side of the holoprojector. Lock punched in a few keys and then turned towards the pilots; the other officer was already looking at them. After a glance, he turned to Lock.

"This is everyone?" asked the bald man; Lock nodded. "Right."

The newcomer turned to the pilots who were watching him expectantly and began to address them.

"I'm sure that all of you have heard of the recent turn of events in the Rebellion," he began. "Alderaan was destroyed and two weeks ago we destroyed the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin. Victory came at a price, though, and now the Rebellion is in dire need of pilots ... pilots just like all of you. I know that some of you feel that your training was not fully completed but Lieutenant Callahan assures me that the ten of you, here in this room, are the best that Rainworld Academy has to offer.

"Let me introduce myself. I am Captain Dirr Sol; you may call me 'Captain,' 'Sir' or 'Leader. ' If you survive the next few missions and earn my trust, you can begin calling me by my callsign, 'Jet'. I am your new Officer Commanding and you are all now part of Bantha Squadron. Bantha is a well-known unit in the Alliance and we take on difficult missions -- we are not babysitters, we are Imp-killers. Lieutenant Callahan is the squadron's XO. You all know him and hopefully respect him, so follow his orders as you would follow mine," he concluded and looked around at the pilots for a moment. "Any questions?"

A Devaronian pilot held up his hand. Jet nodded to him and he asked, "Sir, are we considered operational as of now?"

"Good question..." he glanced at his datapad. "Good question, Toro. The answer is yes, we are now an operational unit. We will be receiving orders shortly, so expect to see combat experience sooner than you'd hoped for." The Devaronian nodded solemnly and Jet continued looking around the room. "Any other questions? No? Good. Lieutenant Callahan has your flight assignments and numbers."

Lock stepped forward and looked at the group. He lifted a datapad and started to read from it. "Flight One will be led by Captain Sol, Bantha Leader. Wire will be Bantha Two, Liz and Rapier will finish off the flight as Banthas Three and Four. I will lead Flight Two as Bantha Five and Toro will be my wingmate, Bantha Six. Rider, you're Bantha Seven and Alien, you'll be Bantha Eight. Finally, Lieutenant Ryles will fly as Bantha Nine with Saber as his wingmate, Bantha Ten. Last of all, Gremlin and Sensei as Banthas Eleven and Twelve."

Once he was done reading off the flight assignments he looked around the room. "All of you have been assigned X-Wing fighters. They're brand new so don't break them or we'll have you swimming through space, understood?" He looked around; no-one seemed to want to argue with him.

Jet took over. "That's all for the moment," he told them. "Report tomorrow at oh-six-hundred at hangar six. We'll be doing live flight practices. You can go."

The pilots got up and started making their way out of the briefing room. Soon enough only Jet and Lock were left. They looked at each other.

"That went well," Lock told Jet.

Jet shrugged. "Let's go get something to drink."

"It's a dry base."

"How do you even survive here?"

Lock smirked. "Who said there isn't any alcohol on the planet?"












  Quiet Peace
By Angel

[20 Years After Alderaan]

Priya finished rinsing the glass in the sink and put it on the rack to dry. Her wrist ached from an injury fifteen years gone, no matter how much bacta she'd taken. Some pain never faded, like a memory too powerful to let go.

Behind her, the kitchen door opened and her daughter wandered in, holding an empty cup of blue milk. Priya sighed, wondering just how much of that she'd had today. She was six now, but her wife just kept giving it to her.

"Soon she'll be grown up and we'll miss her being this happy," she kept telling her. Priya had a tough time arguing that point, no matter how much it rubbed at her sense of structure. At six she should be onto more nutrient-rich juices and fresh water. That was the only way she'd grow up the way the--

Stop, she told herself, hearing her wife's voice in her head. Priya knew she got caught up in the structure. The rules. The designs. It was hard to let that go, no matter how long they'd lived in this lovely place.

"Mommy, can I have more milk?" her daughter said, holding up her cup.

"You know where the fridge is, don't you?" Priya said, doing her best to contain a smile. She looked so much like her. Red-brown hair. Blue-green eyes. Lovely.

"Yes, mommy. I do. I can get it!"

"Get on then," she said and bit her lip as her little girl skipped over to the refrigerator. It was in these moments, when the world was quiet, that she missed her wife the most. The warm air blew in from an open window, carrying the scent of green, growing things. On Coruscant, she'd never seen a plant. Now she couldn't live without her garden and the forests beyond. Such beauty should never fade.

Or be destroyed, ever again.

"Zoe?" she called suddenly. The little girl turned, one hand on her cup and the other on the milk.

"Yes, mommy?"

"Do you know what today is?"

Her little girl paused, eyes searching left and right. "Umm... the weekend?"

Priya laughed despite herself. "Yes, but what is the special holiday today?"


"Think real hard now," Priya said, giving her daughter the Serious-Mommy face. "It's important."

The little girl screwed up her nose as she thought, eyes squinting. A ray of sunshine caught her from behind, illuminating her features. Her skin was lighter than her own, a healthy shade of caramel.

Zoe looked defeated and Priya's heart broke for her. She looked so sad. "I'm sorry, I don't know, mommy."

"It's better to admit you don't know than to lie," she said, smiling. Inwardly, she was proud of her for admitting it.

"It's Remembrance Day, for Alderaan."

"We learned about that in school!" Zoe said, brightening. "The Empire killed all those people, right?"

Priya felt a stab of ice through her heart but, like every other time, she accepted it. She needed to feel it's sting. It wasn't as painful as the first time, sitting in a POW camp and seeing the recordings, but it still hurt. They'd done that, and she'd been part of the Empire then. She'd been complicit. Unknowing, maybe, but not naive. Two billion souls.

"Yes, honey. They did. Do you understand why we learn about it?" she said, coming kneel before her daughter. She put her hands on both of Zoe's shoulders, gently rubbing them with her thumbs and staring into those blue-green eyes.

"Yes, mommy. So we remember them."

"And so we never do it again."

"But the bad Empire is gone. They can't do it again."

"The Empire is people, darling. They were people and are people still. The Empire is gone but some of those people are still here. We must never forget and never let people make such a decision again. Do you understand?"

Zoe nodded, but Priya could see the concern in her eyes. "I understand."

Priya drew her close, wrapping her arms around her daughter. She could feel her heartbeat, her warmth, her very life, close and precious. Closing her eyes, she could still hear the whine of her TIE's engines, the scream of laser cannons, and the terrible fire of cataclysm that ended an Empire for her.

"I love you, Zoe," she whispered.

"I love you too, mommy."

Behind her, a door opened and she turned to see her wife step inside, groceries in hand. They locked gazes and nothing needed to be said. They knew what day it was and what it meant. This peace was shaky, as all peace is, but they had found the quiet. Finally.

"Hi, mommy!" Zoe called, seeing her other mother finally. Priya let her go, her little hands still carrying her cup and the jug of milk.

"Oof, hang on kiddo!" her wife said, dropping the bags and picking her up. She spun her around and kissed her on the cheek.

Priya smiled, feeling a rush of emotion sting her eyes. "Welcome home, Angel."

Jeni Courtner-Bhasin paused, looking at her curiously as Zoe squirmed in her arms. "You haven't called me that in years."

"I know," she said, sniffing and standing back up. She walked over and put her arms around her wife and child. "It's a day to remember, that's all."

They stood like that for a long time until Zoe finally cried out to be let down. She ran off with both cup and milk and the refrigerator wide open. They stood together, arms around each other, quiet and at peace.