Luke stared up at the gray ceiling of his quarters. He had the urge to mark it with something: Luke Skywalker was here, remember Alderaan, a Tatooine proverb, or just the symbol of the unfettered. Did they even have any other paint colors stocked on board? He wouldn’t be surprised if the supplies only had the same unrelenting gray that was every surface he had seen on this battle station. Thinking about the unfettered made him remember how the chain shattered into shards of light in the dream and the girl who had been a slave proudly marching out of here.
He had been trying not to think about it since he got abandoned in here again by everyone over a couple of hours ago. Something was different inside his mind, had been since the crazy dream with the Emperor’s Hand. He had a spot like a spike driven into his bedrock and wire spooled around the spike before extending out of him. That’s how he visualized it when he closed his eyes. It radiated energy that reminded him of her, the Emperor’s Hand, and how she felt in the dream: as warm and fragile as sand-glass and pain roaring from her like a krayt dragon. It was just as beautiful as her luminous form had been earlier and he still felt the need to comfort her. He wrapped his hand around the wire.
The second he did that, he surged into another space and against another self. He wasn’t trying to flatten the other end but the girl was flailing against him like Madame Sandskimmer who always yelled and waved her arms against Luke’s driving through Anchorhead. She shoved and pushed and Luke released his grasp on the connection and retreated. Her voice followed him into his mind. Don’t do that! Shavit, the Emperor told me when he wanted to control my movement so I could relinquish. I’m trying to remain undetected here and you giving me spasms making me hit the wrong button won’t help!
Luke shrank back further, completely contrite and completely confused. He hadn’t been trying to hurt her, hadn’t wanted to hurt her, and didn’t know how he had hurt her. And he was so tired of not knowing!
You haven’t had any training in anything. And I barely have any abilities worth training.
He felt the bitterness in his mouth like he had bit into chokonoseleh fruit. He suspected that was a lie the Emperor had told her, but how to talk to her about it like she was doing?
Telepathy works easiest between Force users and Force sensitives. It takes effort and concentration, but less effort than if you’re trying to send something to someone who isn’t a Force user. Form the words you want to say, speak out loud if that helps, and push the words into the connection between us.
His eyes were already closed, but he squeezed his eyelids tighter. “Hi, I’m sorry.” Then he shoved the words and just his words into the connection that still looked like a wire.
He felt the words hit her like a blow and a headache began. Her mental voice shook a bit when she responded. Not so much effort. Kriff, you’re powerful.
Powerful at what? He was careful to barely tap the words this time.
The Force, what Vader used. Her words trailed away with her focus.
He could see a heat mirage of a console that looked similar to the one he had sat in front of in these quarters. What are you doing? Luke used the same small tap on this question. It was getting easier and he stopped speaking out loud with it. I thought they were locking you up.
That’s what they think they did, and I’m looking for a way off this battle station before Vader decides to personally supervise my execution.
Luke didn’t bother with denying that possibility. She’d already be dead if Vader hadn’t stopped at his request. Obviously, he was someone whose safety Vader took personally even though he had no idea why. Hiding in the inbound-outbound traffic?
That’s the idea, but there’s no traffic. The only ship that has docked was a freighter that flew into Alderaan space. They must have been in hyperspace when it happened. Her personal frustration mixed with a larger pain, the responsibility of the dead of Alderaan.
It’s not your fault, Luke sent to her.
I know what my culpabilities are, Farmboy. He was an excuse for her scorn; he recognized the target was herself. So spare me a lecture.
I’m not lecturing. Look, if I ever get to leave this place, you can sneak aboard my ship. I’ll help you.
Incredulousness overcame her scorn and it rolled over their connection to him. You’ll help me? I tried to kill you! The Emperor—and Luke felt overwhelmed by the bitter lancing of the man who had raised her, who she had believed in, who she had loved as a father had ended up betraying her so thoroughly—doesn’t care if I live.
I care. He wished he could follow those words with a hug. He was glad she was still alive and had gotten away from the stormtroopers. Not everyone in the galaxy acts like a Hutt, but I can understand why you don’t believe that.
She was a sandstorm of different emotions and pain. Her suspicion hammered at him. He maintained his compassion and sympathy like bedrock. The wind of suspicion died down. I don’t understand you. You don’t want anything.
That’s not true. Right now I want answers. His heart squeezed and he rubbed his chest above it. I want to hear from Biggs.
Her composure returned as she probed for a bargain, looking for the trade. Is that what you want me to do? Find this Biggs?
He was headed to Alderaan when we split up. Luke took a deep breath and pushed aside his uncertainty. You don’t have to trade for my help. That’s not how it works.
A banked favor to call in later? She was dubious over that scenario. Was that what you saved me for?
I didn’t want to see you die. I still don’t.
But I tried to kill you!
On the orders of your slave master, it wasn’t personal. Would you kill me now?
No. She puzzled over that admission. Your death profits me nothing.
He missed his Aunt Beru. She had had a talent for explaining this stuff. She’d say what’s good for your inner self can’t be measured by profit. But the Emperor’s Hand was starting at the beginning. It’s a favor anyone can call in, a perfect stranger even. I just want to see you live your life in freedom.
Her confusion was tinged with concern. Why do you want that? What do you get out of it?
Everyone deserves to live free without the threat of death or slavery and deserves to have a say in how they live. You didn’t have that, can’t you see the difference?
What does Vader want with you? The Court will rip you apart. There’s no way he can prevent that. Her concern was still there, but something stole her attention. Her alarm rippled rather than exploded.
Luke tried to see what she saw. What is it? Did they find you?
No, they’re on your floor. She chuckled as she relaxed. The connection between the two of them slackened with it. I can’t believe no one questioned her hairstyle.
What? He didn’t get a chance to ask anything further as he heard two blaster bolts outside his door. He swung out of the bunk, but before he could dodge into the other room again a stormtrooper shoved in through the door before it fully opened. A tiny female in a black Imperial uniform was right on the white armored figure’s heels and a shaggy-furred bipedal alien towered over them both behind her. One last stormtrooper closed the door behind their group while Luke finally recognized the delighted smile between the brown hair coiled into buns over her ears. “Princess! You’re alive!” He forgot himself and actually wrapped his arms around her.
She returned the hug just as tightly. “Are you all right?”
He didn’t get a chance to answer her before the lead stormtrooper pulled off his helmet and Biggs squeezed him with armor-clad arms, muttering a prayer of thanks under his breath. He felt the icy pain around his heart break away and the melt found his eyes. “I didn’t know. They showed what they did to Alderaan and I didn’t know if you had made it there.” He thumped Biggs as hard as he could through the plate protecting his umakkar-upan’s back.
“Just what did happen to Alderaan?” The last stormtrooper removed his helmet revealing a pale-skinned human male older than Luke and Biggs and taller than Luke. He raked his brown hair back with his gloved hand.
“Captain Solo and Chewbacca,” Princess Leia said. “We chartered their ship.”
Luke nodded and gestured at the viewscreen opposite the bunk. “They showed a blast from here, this Death Star, and it obliterated the whole planet.” His gaze fell on the Princess’ pale and drawn face. “I’m so sorry. The broadcast claimed that the planet was guilty of supporting the Rebel Alliance.” Then he remembered a detail that he hadn’t had a chance to ask the Emperor’s Hand. Hey, your orders? What did you mean?
Bitterness still leaked over the lid she put on it. You figured it out. They were a sham to get me here to kill you. Destroying Alderaan was the intention of this weapon. He never wanted them to have any mercy.
Did the Princess really need to know that the Emperor targeted her home world like that? Before Luke decided on a answer, Biggs pointed at the scorch mark on the bulkhead. “That’s a blaster mark. What happened?”
“There was this girl,” he began.
Biggs’ grin flashed his white teeth. “I knew we just had to get you off Tatooine!”
“Not like that,” Luke groaned. “The Emperor sent her here to kill me. I made her miss.”
“The security record said Lord Vader intervened.” Princess Leia frowned. “What did he do?”
“He stopped her from getting another shot off. And then it got weird.”
“But why does he want you?” Biggs interrupted.
“I don’t know. He hasn’t told me anything.” Luke looked back at the Princess. “You still have the ship?”
She nodded. “General Kenobi is disabling the tractor beam so we can leave.”
Luke reached out again. They have a way off. Where are you? We can get you too.
Her shock rocked their connection. What?
Come with us!
Her shock was giving way to dismay and suspicion. Your friends won’t trust me and I can’t blame them. Something distracted her focus and she had to suppress her alarm. Guard shift change. They’re headed to your location. Go, Skywalker, I can take care of myself.
Her alarm triggered his. “We gotta go before the next guards get here.”
“The kaprito makes sense.” Solo replaced his helmet and opened the door. “Let’s go.”
Chewbacca bent down in the corridor and relieved one of the dead guards of his E-11 blaster rifle with a quiet chuff. Luke liberated the other one’s blaster and belt. He felt less useless with a weapon of his own.
That pause cost them. Two stormtroopers appeared at the end of the corridor nearest the turbolifts, yelled, and ran toward their group.
Solo and Chewbacca fired at them, dropping both stormtroopers to the ground. “They raised the alarm,” Leia exclaimed. “Move it!” She led the run down the corridor in the opposite direction.
The comlinks in the stormtrooper helmets were coming in handy, Biggs recognized, as the orders sent out to all the troops stationed in this section let them duck into a different corridor and avoid their pursuers. That intel was almost worth how you could barely see through the damn lenses. They ducked into a gray side corridor and panted heavily as they waited for the turbolift lobby to clear out. The latest car arrival disgorged six or so stormtroopers who marched away. Luckily, no one headed into the corridor they were huddled in now. With more luck, they’d find a turbolift heading horizontally back toward the hangar bay.
Leia winced as she leaned against the wall, lifting one foot off the floor before the other. Luke noticed. “You okay?”
“I hadn’t planned on running in these boots,” she said with a wry twist of her lips. She put both feet on the floor. “I think we can try subtlety now.”
Solo yanked off his helmet and glared down at her. “How do you figure that?” Chewbacca added an under his breath growl to his captain’s words.
“We lost the pursuers. You and Biggs can escort the prisoner Chewbacca through any new patrols. I’ll be giving Luke a tour and then we’ll meet back at the hangar, without people shooting at us.”
Biggs lifted his helmet off. He was getting sweaty under it. “They’ve been giving a description of our group with a rampaging Wookiee.” Chewbacca’s whine was angry. “Don’t blame me if they don’t know the difference,” he added.
“The rampaging Wookiee can be another Wookiee,” Luke suggested.
“Stormtroopers won’t care as long as you talk fast and keep moving,” Leia said.
Solo bristled. “Are you telling me how to con someone now? Seriously? A Core World Princess?” He turned in disgust and whirled into the main corridor. He froze as a group of six stormtroopers rounded the corner they had cleared before hiding. The stormtroopers and Han both froze in shock, but Han recovered first. He drew his blaster and fired, hitting one stormtrooper dead in the chest so hard, the armored figured flew back. He yelled and charged the rest of the group. They all turned and ran. “Get back to the ship!” Han yelled back.
Chewbacca howled and took off after his captain.
“Where are you two going?” Leia nearly screamed after them.
Luke turned to Biggs and the Princess. “That was brave.”
“What good will it do us if he gets himself killed?” Leia pursed her lips and took the lead. “Come on.” She hurried into the now empty turbolift lobby as a klaxon sounded down the corridor.
Biggs put the helmet back on, but the comlink was nothing but static now. He pulled it back off and tossed it onto the floor. “They shut off the comlink so no more knowing what they’re doing.”
“Great,” Leia said. Marching feet echoed from another corridor leading in their direction. They jumped into the first open turbolift car. Luke hit the controls and the car dropped.