Threepio had caught up with their group before they boarded a turbolift up to the third level command center. Leia didn’t say anything about his tardiness. He and Artoo had been counterparts her entire life and Artoo had hinted that their connection formed years before her birth. But the battle Artoo, Biggs, and Luke were flying into—she bit her lower lip, trying to concentrate on the military strategy, the bigger picture of stopping that technological monstrosity before Yavin 4 joined Alderaan.
“Take heart, Leia,” General Kenobi said out loud this time. She looked up at him. “You’ve never seen them fly.”
“Biggs flew the shuttle on Tatooine.” She reminded him. “Before we sold it.”
His impish smile broadened. “No, you haven’t seen them fly.” He chuckled, but the turbolift doors slid open before she could ask what he thought the difference was.
Leia led them through the dark interior room, past the rows of consoles with their glowing tracking screens set between stone columns supporting the weight of the levels above them. The communications bank of consoles filled the rear wall. She went straight to the circular viewscreen table in the center of the room. General Kenobi stepped up to it beside her and Threepio found a gap to place himself with all the humans.
The viewscreen table had a flat display of the planet Yavin colored red in the center, its fourth moon colored blue, and the approaching Death Star on the other side of the planet. General Dodonna and the other military figures of the High Command leaned over the tall edge and surrounding the viewscreen. Commander Bob Hudsol, who wore the thickest white mustache Leia had ever seen on a human male before, glanced up as they approached. “Estimated time to firing range is fifteen minutes.” The screen display added a red wedge from the Death Star to map its progress until firing range.
General Dodonna said, “Send out an alert for the evacuation process.” An aide nodded and moved to the comm station.
Soon the intercom voice announced, “Death Star approaching. Estimated time to firing range, fifteen minutes.”
General Kenobi looked at the other generals. “That’s not enough time to finish evacuating the base.”
General Dodonna shook his head. “I don’t suppose you are getting anything from the Force?”
“On the outcome of this battle?” General Kenobi looked down at the moving circles and the warning firing range wedge. “The Force has never gifted me with unassailable visions of the future. We must trust our pilots.”
Commander Lajaie left the communication consoles and joined them at the viewscreen. “The young Skywalker, is he a Jedi too?”
“For his safety, his training was delayed. We win this day and then it can begin.” General Kenobi glanced sideways at Leia. “Along with others.”
Luke’s lightsaber was solid in her hand, but the silver belt of her dress was far too delicate to hang it from. She hadn’t agreed to General Kenobi’s idea to train her as well. She rested it and her hands on the rim of the viewscreen table, in full view of the High Command present. “We will win this day and we will restore the Jedi Order.”
“Yes, you shall,” General Kenobi nodded.
Red Leader’s voice filled the Command Center over the comm system. “All wings report in.”
Thirty snub fighters flew out of the atmosphere of Yavin 4, a mix of X-Wings of Red Squadron and Y-Wings of Gold. Red Squadron took the lead as they moved around the massive red gas giant. Biggs scanned his controls quickly before returning his gaze to the star field beyond Yavin. The engines of the X-Wings ahead of him glowed red. A smooth gray sphere hung there already; the light of Yavin’s star reflected along the edge of its curve and grew larger as they flew closer.
The Red Leader’s voice spoke over the comm. “All wings report in.” According the formation they were flying in, Biggs remembered.
“Red Ten standing by.”
“Red Seven standing by.”
“Red Three standing by,” Biggs said.
“Red Six standing by.” That was Porkins. He had introduced himself quickly as they boarded back in the hangar bay.
“Red Nine standing by.”
“Red Two standing by.” He recognized Wedge Antilles’ voice.
“Red Eleven standing by.”
“Red Five standing by.” Luke said eagerly, the last ship of their formation.
“Lock S-foils in attack position,” Red Leader ordered.
Biggs flipped the toggle and watched the wings of the ships ahead of him split into the eponymous X shape. Then his ship felt buffeted by something.
“We’re passing through their magnetic field,” Red Leader explained. “Hold tight!” Biggs adjusted his controls to compensate. “Switch your deflectors on. Double front!”
The Death Star was closer now and one saw the towers and canyons giving shade and coloration to the gray metal surface. One quadrant was scooped away for an antenna dish, which was already turned toward Yavin 4.
Wedge’s awestruck voice carried over the comm. “Look at the size of that thing!”
“Cut the chatter, Red Two.” Red Leader ordered sharply. “Accelerate to attack speed. This is it,boys!”
Biggs increased his throttle and maintained the formation with the rest of Red Squadron.
Gold Leader’s voice spoke over the comms. “Red Leader, this is Gold Leader.”
“I copy, Gold Leader,” Red Leader said to both squadrons.
“We’re starting for the target shaft now.”
“We’re in position. I’m going to cut across the axis and try and draw their fire.”
The X-Wings and Y-Wings split apart as Red Squadron headed to the black equatorial trench that bisected the whole Death Star and Gold Squadron swooped down between it and the target shaft. Biggs copied the graceful roll that put the surface of the Death Star underneath the noses of their ships. The turbolaser turrets spat green laser bolts at them that were easily evaded, even as the turrets swiveled to follow the X-Wings’ course.
“Heavy fire, boss! Twenty-three degrees,” Wedge said over the comms.
“I see it. Stay low,” Red Leader responded.
Biggs spotted Red Two skimming the Death Star’s bumpy surface. The laser bolts weren’t configured to shoot that low and couldn’t stop Wedge’s barrage.
“This is Red Five. I’m going in.”
Biggs focused on Luke’s nosedive toward the surface. He didn’t waste time with fancy flourishes that Biggs had seen him pilot before, but shot his turbolaser cannons to strife the surface. He hit something explosive and a fireball erupted right in his flight path. “Luke, pull up!”
Luke couldn’t pull out of it but his X-Wing shot through the fireball, emerging on the other side with scorch marks on his wings and fuselage.
“Are you all right?” Biggs demanded over the comms, ignoring all military protocol.
“I got a little cooked, but I’m okay.”
Biggs heaved his own sigh in response. After everything that happened to get Luke back, he was not losing his storm-brother to this planet killer.
Vader strode down the corridor outside the turbolaser turrets and other armaments. He always preferred the front of the battle where he could protect his men, issue orders as soon as they were needed, and inspire confidence by suffering the same as the troops. Even though these stormtroopers and technicians were not his loyal 501st nor the trusted crew of the Destroyer and his other ships, they still worked faster as he passed. Let Tarkin and the others hide on the Death Star’s Overbridge. Vader would win the troops’ favor out of their sight.
Alarms blared as an officer moved out of a side corridor, looking both ways for someone of higher rank. He spotted Vader and rushed toward him. “We count thirty Rebel ships, Lord Vader. But they’re so small they’re evading our turbo-lasers.”
Vader paused outside a control room. “We’ll have to destroy them ship to ship. Get the crews to their fighters.” The officer hurried off to obey and Vader continued into the control room to oversee just what damage thirty Rebel snub-fighters could do. A fair bit to the upper levels of the station he learned as he surveyed the reports of damaged areas, equipment, and injured personnel.
It was all easily repairable, even the loss of lives, so what did the Rebels hope to gain? None of this slowed the Death Star’s approach to their base. The base where Obi-Wan had taken his son.
Our son, our miracle son, you cannot let him die there, Anakin! Padmé’s voice was relentless in his mind. They’re fighting with a purpose. Find out what it is, Ani. Please, to save our son!
As you wish. He focused on the viewscreen tracking the Rebel movements above the surface of the Death Star. Their forces were split into two groups. The officers and technicians in here were focused on the attacking squadron over the axis trench. The other squadron was attacking close to the Meridian Trench near the Death Star’s north pole. Nothing of importance was up there except thermal exhaust ports from the reactor core.
The highly unstable reactor core designed by Galen Erso, who was a traitor to the Empire—Vader had seen the evidence of that himself—but Tarkin’s pet engineers had said it wasn’t necessary to repair the design. The odds were astronomical against the chain reaction ever being detonated, they had said. The Rebels had decided to take those odds on an impossible shot.
You could make it. Padmé’s voice purred seductively. It’s not an impossible shot for the only human to ever win the Bootna Eve Classic, for the ex-slave boy who saved Naboo with one shot.
You don’t have to flatter me to get what you want. We’re long past that.
The Force stirred around him and her voice hardened. Go out there and take this technological terror from Palpatine at the last possible second but before the base is destroyed. That will save our son, serve our vengeance, and give justice for Alderaan.
He considered that strategy. Oh yes, the loss of Tarkin and his loyal cohort stationed here shifted the make-up of Palpatine’s court in ways that he couldn’t wait to exploit. But there was time enough to decide on that later. The TIE fighters had entered the fray and were only concentrating on the squadron causing the most damage. “Have the two best pilots that have not yet been deployed set aside for my personal orders.” He told the officer in charge of the control room before striding out into the corridor once more.
Smoke from the turbines of the giant laser guns filled the firing rooms and the corridor. The gunners in their black helmets and uniforms steered the lasers after the faster targets but always fired too late. Their blasts shook the area like thunder until it was replaced by a volley of blasts from the enemy. Gunners, technicians, and stormtroopers all flew into the air with the explosion.
Vader continued to the pilots ready room. All the pilots were in line to dash through the door into their hangar bay, except two standing at attention near the entrance. He stopped in front of them. “Several fighters have broken off from the main group. Come with me.”
They fell in behind him as he turned to the side corridor that led to the hangar bay for his personal TIE Advanced x1 prototype. Now he was glad he had indulged in bringing it along. It was the only ship besides the shuttles with a hyperdrive on board the Death Star. His two wingmen loaded into the standard issue TIE fighters and they swooped out of the hangar bay in attack formation. He let himself relax into the Force, the way it was possible for him to do so when he flew.
Two bright beacons signaled in the Force in the area. He focused on the stronger of the two and it felt familiar. His son was in a fighter out here. Luke had called himself a pilot when Vader could not, dared not linger with him. The Rebellion obviously recognized Luke’s skills. Using the Force, he found Luke’s transponder code and watched the X-Wing spin tightly before nosediving at the surface. He smiled under his helmet. Luke was a pilot just like he was.
The other beacon in the Force was closing in on Luke and it was familiar to Vader as well. He should have killed her out of Luke’s sight since it disturbed him so badly. “Head to the polar trench,” he ordered his wingmen. “I will rendezvous with you there.” His internal growling barely recognized their assent before he swooped into the battle to save his son.