Category Archives: Short Stories

The Call of the Sea: An Essay

I’ve always been at home on the water. Any water, be it a river or a fishing pond, a trickling brook or the vast oceans. While the eyes of many explorers look to the heavens and the far away stars, my heart has always dreamed of the deep places beneath the waves.

As an orphan growing up on the wharves, I wander the dock under the bows at port trying to guess their country of origin by what flies on the jack staff. As the ships roll in, I sit among the barrels and listen to the sailors talk in between the cries of the fishmongers about cockles and mussels for sale. I revel in the tales they spin. They tell me of treacherous sirens and beautiful mermaids, of cutthroat pirates and buried golden treasures. Some are lies, for certain, but those make the best tales. One even claims he saw a kraken. I may be ten, but I am not that gullible. There’s no such creature as a kraken. Some teach me knots while others toss me a tuppence for directions to the nearest ale houses and brothels. I learned my ropes and took many a coin for helping them navigate the town, but I would trade all the knots and coins I’ve earned for a berth on the next ship out. I dream only of the sea.

One particular night, down past the rocky point where the gulls won’t fly because the water roils there with some black evil in the depths, a great storm brewed up. It raged for three whole days wreaking havoc on the local fisherman’s haul. Ships are stranded in port while the sea rages on in unrivaled fury. On the second night, a sloop-of-war hobbles out of the blackness and into my port, her rigging looking a fright after her tempest-tossed lashing from the waves. The captain, a Dutch fellow by the name of Homburg, expertly pilots his battered oaken beast, Hollandia, right to the offing. I’m certain at launch, her lines were clean and her hull ship-shape and Bristol-fashion. This brutal storm, however, has made her a right mess. The sailors debark in a heap of ragged humanity, some vomiting, some kissing the dock as they file off the gangplank and cross themselves like some water-logged priests at an oceanic mass. Their survival is a miracle for sure, and they all credit the captain with saving their souls.

I stand there, my maw gaping open like a cracked barnacle, as the bedraggled men stagger past. Captain Homburg is last off, limping and bloodied at his left eye. The sailors take no notice of me, but the captain does. Even with one eye, he is observant of everything. “You there, wharf rat,” he calls out. I can’t answer. My voice rasps like a weak breeze as the old salt gimps toward me. His remaining good eye looks me over, then he flips me a silver piece. “None among us have the legs left to stand watch tonight, boy,” he growls with a rumbling Jutlandic tone. “See that my Hollandia remains undisturbed ’til morning and there’ll be ten more of those for ‘ya.” Eleven silver pieces! I’ve never seen so much money in my life! I puff out my chest and salute smartly like I’ve seen so many sailors do when addressed by their officers. “Good lad.” He hobbles off into the night as I take my first watch with glee.

The bright streaks of morning warm my face as I stand on the abaft railing facing east to greet the sun. My first watch is a grand success. All supplies are accounted for. Not only did I fend off imaginary bandits through the night, but, in my moon-lit boredom, I also untangled and re-lashed two running backstays. I contemplated climbing them up the mast myself, but decided against it in case my imagined saboteurs scaled the anchor ropes while I was away. Captain Homburg is most pleased with my efforts as were the sailors. Two of them hoist me on their shoulders, parading me around with a cheer as if I am the hero of the day. Soon after, they go about the rest of the work, refitting planks and hauling sails with block and tackle larger than my whole body. The deck is a bustling hive of sailors preparing to go back to sea. For a moment, I am one of the crew. Oh, how I long to be one of them forever!

For two days, I man the bottom of the gangplank under Hollandia as she becomes seaworthy once again. The sailors jeer and joke with me as they pass to and fro, tussling my hair and giving a wink and nod. The ship’s carpenter, Billy Fleet, thanks me for my expert advice on which planks are ridden with woodworms and which are not. I learn all the sailor’s names. There’s Salty Jack, Paul the Butcher, Mister Killingsworth, Hatchet, Helmsman Reed, Bosun’s Mate Peterman, and One-Eyed William Hastings, the scourge of the Black Isles. I have never heard of the Black Isles, but he must have done something terrible there. He is missing a hand and has a patch over his eye. It appears he earned his moniker the hard way. All of their names are as colorful as the men who wear them. Salty Jack enlists me to freshen up the paint on the prow figurehead; a life-size nude likeness of Eirene, the daughter of Poseidon.

“Carved her meself, I did!” exclaims Salty Jack with his jack-o-lantern toothless grin—which is also how he got his name. “With Eirene on the prow, the god of the sea always favors us. Paint her up right, and don’t be touching her breasts now. They may be wood, but I did carve them mighty nice and tempting!” His guffaw turns my face every shade of red in the paint palette. The other sailors join in having a laugh at my innocent expense. It’s all in good fun, however the last laugh is mine. When no one was looking, I gave them both a good squeeze.

At long last, the morning arrives when Hollandia must depart, bound for service off the Spanish coast. Admiral Nelson is assembling the fleet and taking the fight to Napoleon. I listen as Captain Homburg reads the orders to his sailors, that Hollandia will join the blockade forming near Trafalgar in hopes to starve out the French and their allies. The crew cheers at the prospect of action. I look on as they make ready to weight anchor, and I long to haul the rope alongside Mister Killingsworth. I swell with pride as Bosun’s Mate Peterman hoists the Meteor Flag of Old England boasting the King’s Colors at the canton. The banner catches high in the morning breeze, snapping crisp like the gnashing teeth of a lion ready to pounce.

Though my heart is full for the experience, I am saddened to stand at the end of the dock on that grey, foggy morning knowing that was as far as I would ever go to sea. A single tear rolls down my cheek and I steel myself for the hard goodbyes I will have to say. As Hatchet and One-Eyed William roll the last barrels of salt pork and dried fish up the gangplank, Captain Homburg limps to my side. “You’ve done us a great service, lad,” he tells me in a soft voice; softer than I thought possible out of the old seaman. “Your jolly countenance has lifted the hearts of these old sea dogs, myself included. Me and the crew like the cut of your jib.” He places his rough and reassuring hand on my shoulder. “We lost our last cabin boy in the storm that brought us here. Useless as he was at sea, he was good for a shanty and divvying the rum rations, and the men miss him. You’ve got some wits and decent skills with a rope. What say you, boy? Will you join us in his stead?”

An hour later, I am standing above Eirene’s freshly-painted likeness on the prow of the Hollandia while the brisk salty air whirls around me in a tempest. The gulls dive and soar through the sails as we cross into the deep blues and blacks of the channel. The mist breaks, revealing the sun glittered-waves sparkling like so many diamonds adorning the Crown Jewels. Their brilliance stings my eyes with their shimmering brightness. I howl and hoot like a wild dog filled with sheer joy of a fresh kill. There is no sensation to compare with this. The whole world could end after this day and I would not have a care. At long last, I am at sea. I am at home.

By nightfall, my elation is cut to the quick. The gentle rolling waves of my first day turn into the stuff of nightmares as Hollandia goes headlong into the teeth of another raging storm. Captain Homburg has lashed himself to the helm as the roiling black where the gulls dare not fly does it’s level best to take us under. I can hear his laughter through the cracks of thunder. He spits curses and dares the sea to take him. The crew below decks whispers of the ship being overwhelmed, maybe even cursed. They vomit and cross themselves as I saw them do before. Others bail helplessly against the ocean’s onslaught as plank after plank gives way to the icy north Atlantic waters. The salt spray stings my nose and throat. All the while, Hollandia tosses bow to stern and port to starboard, testing the strength of good English oak past its limits. Eirene, in her wooden and naked glory stands her silent vigil as the roiling black swallows us whole.

I still stand at the prow above her from time to time between the coral heads, but now it is the tides that swirl about me instead of the winds. Eirene is my constant companion. Salty Jack would be proud that I keep his wooden masterwork clear of barnacles and seaweed. Even my paint is still visible on a clear day. Sometimes I ask her why her father forsook us to the waves. She never answers. Her visage smiles back at me. Unchanging, wooden and stiff, yet warm and inviting as the day I painted her.

Sometimes I will stand my moonlit watch again on the gangplank and defend my ship against the imaginary saboteurs haunting the depths. Captain Homburg would be pleased to know I’ve kept them at bay these great many years. To my astonishment, I’ve even seen a kraken. That old sailor was telling the truth after all.

I stand abaft on clear days and imagine I can still feel the warmth of that morning sun as it crests the horizon, but the sun and moon appear different down here. The deep is cold. There is no sun here. I pass my days watching the modern metal hulls pass overhead, witnessing the change from sails to steam to ships that now travel beneath the waves. Such a marvel! I’ve even visited a few ships at anchor. I envy those who still sail above me, but I don’t begrudge them. All my life I’ve always been at home on the water, and now the water has become just that. I am home. I am where I belong, and here I will remain. My eyes will look to the heavens and the far away stars, but my heart still dreams of the deep places beneath the waves.

Author’s note: The oceans and the age of sail is a fascinating time that captured my young imagination on the first pages of Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and the first time I read Melville’s opening words, “Call me Ishmael.

As an adult, that fascination translated into a love for Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series, Gene Hackman’s The Wake of the Perdido Star, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, among many others. Everything about the ocean is a wonder. If I couldn’t sail on it, I wanted to swim under it. I fondly recall the nights laying under the coffee table in my Great-Grandmother’s living room eagerly awaiting the commercials on her console television to finish for the start of the next edition of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I suppose that’s a condition that comes from being born under the sign of Pisces.

I’ve always been at home on the water. While the eyes of many explorers look to the heavens and far away worlds, my heart has always dreamed of the deep places beneath the waves.

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part VI

The Emperor’s Lambda-Class t4-a Shuttle,
Great Gran Run Hyperspace lane, Tashtor Sector, 4 ABY

Krest was furious. She paced the short distance of the stateroom in stuttering, angry steps. Meera placed her finger on the mute button, suspending the Shaaridan bounty hunter’s face on a blinking pause. “Krest, I have an idea.”

“As do I, and it involves scattering that creature’s atoms from here to Velusia.”

Velusia, Velus System – Galactic Core

“There may be another way to play this and I think I know how to do it. You said the crew of the Stargazer would defend themselves, how many are there?”

“The last time the Emperor brought us here, Aloo had his own private army of aboard that ship. Surely they have heard about the disaster over Endor by now. Anyone coming close to it will have quite a fight on their hands.”

“How loyal are they to Aloo?”

“As much as we are, or were, to the Emperor. They are not conscripts or mercenaries. He cultivated the greatest warriors from Oktaria as his personal security, and there’s no telling who—or what—else they have on board.”

“How do you think they would feel about you if they knew you killed him?” The glare Krest shot back said more than any words. “If we’re going to get out of this and get what you want off the Stargazer, I need you to do exactly what I say or we’re all going to die.”

Krest stared at her with a long look of distrust, but she knew Aloo’s soldiers would cut her down without mercy for killing him if they found out she did it. “Alright, Lieutenant. Let’s hear your plan.”

“We need to get everyone on the same page or it won’t work. Gather the troops in here. We don’t have much time.” Krest opened the door and spoke quietly to Sergeant Marillion. In moments, the sergeant was back with Majors Deshken and Andalor along with Technician Vel. The six of them filled the small room to capacity, so the others crowded outside. Krest gestured to Meera. “Let’s hear it, Lieutenant.”

Meera looked around the room and gave a reassuring nod, though she wasn’t even sure herself that this plan would work, but it was all she had. “I need you all to trust what I am about to do. You need to put aside loyalties and feelings about the Empire and follow my lead.” She picked up a datapad from the table and tossed it to Marillion. “Sergeant, have one of your men get Aloo’s code cylinder and a photograph of his face on the double if you please.” He shuffled through the others out of the room. She took a quick deep breath and removed her finger from the mute button. The blue static image of Gekko sparked back to life. “Here we go.”

“…inal warning. You will be taken. How you are taken is your choice. The Guild pays me either way. Power down your engines or be fired upon!”

“Gekko, this is Meera Dyre. Please don’t fire on us! I was a prisoner on the Death Star. We are not Imperials. I repeat, we are not Imperials. We are refugees and wish to negotiate. Please do not fire!”

“Your claim is weak, Meera Dyre. The Imperial code your ship is transmitting tells me you are not only Imperials, but you travel aboard the shuttle of Emperor Palpatine, himself.” The guttural, reptilian tone of the bounty hunter’s voice sounded sarcastic and unconvinced. Meera cleared her throat to respond as a cannon blast seared across the bow of the shuttle in warning.

“We are not Imperials, I said. Hold your fire!” She muted the transmitter. “Sergeant, I need that picture. Krest, tell the pilot to power down the engine but keep his finger on the button. If this works, we’re going to need to get out of here quickly.” Sweat broke out on her brow. She needed to convince Gekko to stop firing on them before the Stargazer noticed the skirmish and got involved. Timing was everything. She unmuted Gekko again and altered her voice to sound panicked.

“We were prisoners of the Empire but escaped aboard this shuttle. We overpowered the guards and took a hostage. He’s an Imp, or he was. Looked like someone important. He was killed in the skirmish but we still got out. Please, don’t fire on us. We just want to live.”

There was a long silence. At first, Meera thought the holo-projector stopped working, but the Shaaridan monster turned his head. At least he stopped firing on them.

“Gekko, did you hear us? We are not Imps—”

“Who is your hostage? Speak now!”

Gekko the Bounty Hunter, art by Aubrey Eden Dukes

She pressed the mute button again. “Sergeant, where is that picture?” The datapad was passed forward through the throng. The contorted face of Sim Aloo stared back through the screen. At that moment, the rhythmic thrum of the ship’s engines stopped as the pilot powered down the engines. She looked at Krest. “Tell the pilot to be ready. As soon as we offload Aloo’s body, fire the engines and hail the Stargazer with a mayday. We’ll be coming in hot.”

“Just what do you have in mind, Lieutenant?” Major Deshken appeared to not like this part of the plan. “Going down this path will get us all killed. You heard the bounty hunter. He has us dead in the water!”

“Lieutenant Dyre is in charge of this plan, Major,” Krest stepped in front of him. “Accept it or find your way to the airlock. I’m sure the Shaaridan will welcome the extra profit from your surrender.” He acquiesced, but the look on his face screamed that he was not happy about it. Meera punched in a code on the datapad, sending the digital death mask of Aloo through the comm channel. She watched as the progress bar painfully crawled across the screen like a wounded womprat.

“Check your datapad,” she said into the holoprojector. “It looks like the shuttle computer recognized him, too. He was an Imperial adviser named Sim Aloo. He resisted, so we had to kill him.”

Again, there was a long silence. She could see the Shaaridan looking between screens to verify Aloo’s identity. Finally, he spoke. “What was your crime, Meera Dyre?”

“What?” she asked, confused.

“You were a prisoner of the Empire. What was your crime? I warn you, do not lie or I will know it.”

She knew that the Shaaridan species had a pheromone sensitivity that could sense deceit. Something in their reptilian nature gave them abilities some would consider unnatural. If she continued to lie, he wouldn’t know it now, but should be board the shuttle, they could not hide it from him. That’s why she decided to tell a partial truth.

“My father stole something from them,” she said, not making eye contact with anyone else in the room. “And I hid it. When I refused to give it back, they killed him and took me.”

“What did he steal?”

“If you’re trying to find a puck on me—” She wasn’t expecting any further inquiry. Meera suddenly regretted bringing everyone in the room to hear this.

“I will not ask again. What did he steal?”

“It was a Kyber Crystal.” Deshken gasped, but everyone else remained silent.

“Do you still possess this crystal, Meera Dyre?” Her hand went to her neck and felt for the familiar bulge of it at the end of the leather thong, always hiding in plain sight under her Imperial uniform.

“There is a ship, The Stargaz—”

“I am aware of Aloo’s vessel. They scan us as we speak. Again, do you still possess the crystal? Is it on your person?” She reached into her shirt and pulled out, the room’s light refracted in tiny rainbows as it spun in her hand. She held it where he could see its reddish brilliance shine through the holoprojector.

“I do, and I will make you a deal.”

Speak.”

“We will place Aloo’s body and my crystal in a cargo container and drop it out of the air lock. You can take it and collect the reward for him from the Republic. The crystal is yours as a gift.”

“And in exchange for this generous gift?”

“You will fire warning shots at us for effect, after which you will jump to hyperspace and let us go our own way.” Meera kept the crystal dangling in front of the device where she knew Gekko could see it spin and refract. The shuttle pilot comm interrupted and she quickly hit the pause button.

“Stargazer is hailing us. They are transmitting Advisor Aloo’s personal docking codes. They must have been expecting him. Your orders, Captain Krest?”

Krest looked at Meera with urgency in her eyes. “Wait,” she said to Krest, then tossed her necklace to Major Andalor. “Major, take another and prepare to jettison Aloo’s body. Double time please, Major.” He nodded in agreement and one of the Storm Troopers followed him out. Meera then turned back to the projector. “Gekko, do we have a bargain?”

The projection flickered and refocused on the bounty hunter’s masked face. “We have a bargain, Meera Dyre. I sense you speak the truth, yet still hide much. I warn you, should you double-cross me, I will assign you the Death Mark of the Shaaridi. My kind will not rest until you are destroyed.”

“I understand. You are most gracious and deserve your reward. Stand by for cargo offload.” She cut the projector and looked at Krest. “Once the airlock reseals, tell the pilot to answer the hail with a distress call. Have him report the Bounty Hunter captured and killed Aloo for the reward and that his body is now aboard his ship, then put him in our wake and run for the Stargazer. If they believe us, we won’t have to worry about the bounty hunter anymore.”

Krest smiled in return. “You’re more useful than I thought you would be, Lieutenant.” She looked at the rest. “Look alive, rebel scum. Battle stations, and prepare for close-quarter combat!” They scurried out, leaving Krest and Meera alone for a moment.

“How did you know the bounty hunter would accept your terms? He could have captured us all any time he wanted.” Krest asked.

Meera smiled back. “My father had dealings with Trandoshans once. They are as bad a Jawas when it comes to shiny objects. Since the Shaaridi are close cousins of Trandoshans, I took a gamble.”

“That ‘shiny object’ is property of the Empire,” Major Deshkin walked back in after hearing her last statement. “You stole from your Emperor and then hid your father’s crime. Now you give your ill-gotten gains freely to this beast and take foolish risks with all our lives. You should be executed for this insolence. Your father was no better than the rebels we fight against!”

Major Karlov Deshken, photographed as a captain, Imperial Loyalty Bureau

Meera shot from her chair and charged at the Major. Krest intercepted her before she crashed into him, holding her back. “My father paid for that crime with his life!” Meera screamed back. “The Emperor got his justice when his Storm Troopers came for us and murdered him. Despite all that, I am still loyal to the Empire. How dare you!” The Major was taken aback by the ferocity of her response, but composed himself for a reply ripped straight from the pages of an Imperial Training manual.

“None of that matters. I will be adding your most irregular behavior to my report for the fleet and requesting a full inquiry. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be below assisting Major Andalor.”

Meera struggled against Krest. Rage and anger coursed through her marrow. She reached after him and missed by some distance, but a sensation in her hand felt like she had grabbed him anyway. The Major stopped in his tracks and grabbed at his throat, gasping like he was being choked. Meera strained against Krest’s grip, but focused her intense feelings of hate on Deshkin. She could feel her hand around his neck and squeezing the life from him, though she was still several feet away. Her fingers slowly clenched into a fist while he turned shades of red, then blue. With a flick of her wrist, his neck spun in an unnatural twist and his corpse collapsed to the floor.

Krest flung Meera down into the chair and quickly shut the door. “My, my, Lieutenant Dyre. What other forbidden secrets do you harbor in there?” Major Andalor’s voice crackled over the intercom before she could answer.

“Payload ready for launch, Lieutenant Dyre. Awaiting you order.”

Meera was exhausted. Her lungs could barely take in enough air to speak. She did not know what just happened, but it drained every ounce of energy she had. The anger overtook her senses and she couldn’t control herself. Krest sat and pressed her finger to her lips, indicating for Meera remain quiet. “Dyre has been attacked by Major Deshkin. Send Marillion and his troopers to the conference room immediately.” She then pressed the cockpit comm. “Keep your finger on the button, Lieutenant Cearza.”

“Aye, Captain Krest. Standing by.”

She stared at Meera again with a look of wide wonder and calculating calm. “When Marillion arrives, follow my lead.” She stood, drew her vibroblade, and plunged it deep into Deshkin’s chest. Just then, the door swung wide and Marillion’s red-armored form filled the entrance without his helmet, but blaster at the ready.

The Imperial Crimson Storm Trooper Battalion

“What happened here?” he asked.

“It would seem the good Major was angry that Lieutenant Dyre stole from his precious Empire. He moved against her and I ended it. Take his body below and toss him in with Aloo. That should earn us some goodwill the bounty hunter.”

Marillion looked at Meera with confusion. She sat sprawled in the chair, panting like a Lothcat, barely conscious and drenched in sweat. All she could do was nod in agreement. Marillion and one of his men took Deshkin’s arms and drug him out. The door swished closed behind them and Krest sheathed her deadly talon.

“I cannot have the crew see us as equals, Dyre. I control them because they fear me. If they know what you are capable of, I no longer control that fear. Loyalty becomes divided, and I cannot allow that. Something has awoken within you. You possess the very skills the Emperor scoured the galaxy for, but be mindful. Just because he is dead does not mean you are safe. There are others, and the Emperor still has reach far beyond the grave.”

“I am…I’m no one…I am just a …medical off…icer. Nothing more.” Meera struggled to reply.

“Silly girl. You are far more than that now. I’ll keep your secret and you will follow my command until this mission is complete. If you’ll agree to that, I swear to you I will help you discover these abilities you have. Earlier I gave you a choice, so I ask you once again: Join me and live or oppose me and die. We’ll speak on this again after we’ve taken the Stargazer.” She reached over to the comm. “Major Andalor, is the secondary cargo prepared?”

“Yes, Captain. Prepared.”

“Good. Activate Aloo’s code cylinder and jettison the package immediately.” She quickly pressed the button to the pilot. “Captain Cearza, once the cargo doors close, give a twenty-count, then fire engines. Plot intercept course with Stargazer and request fire support. Distress signal Zeta-Omicron-Six-Six. Give me some distance between us and this bounty hunter heathen.”

“Aye, Captain. Orders confirmed”

“Stay here and recover, Dyre. You’re going to need your strength for what comes next. We’ll handle the rest of your plan from here.” Krest swept out, leaving Meera alone.

Over the last twelve hours, Meera’s body endured a myriad of brutal trials, from the relentless thrashing aboard the failing Death Star, to the stresses of the situation aboard this shuttle, her lifeboat, and now whatever supernatural transformation was happening to her. The moments of quiet washed over like waves, making her limbs and eyes heavy. It felt like days since she slept. As her head lolled to the side, a tiny blue light flickered on the holoprojector. She swung her arm up as if it were tied down with stones and pushed it. The Shaaridan’s face in a blue holographic triangle erupted upward.

“Meera Dyre, my patience wears thin. You have—”

“Run.”

“Repeat your message?”

“They’re calling Aloo’s ship to destroy you. Take your bounty and run.”A grinding sound could be heard through the durasteel walls as the cargo doors swung open to space. They were sending out the bodies.

“I fear no luxury cruiser. My ship is—”

“There’s an army aboard it, loyal to the Empire. Take what we have offered you and run. You only have a moments to live otherwise.”

“You speak truly, Meera Dyre?” The grinding sound started again. The cargo bay doors were closing.

“I do. You have twenty seconds. Collect the payload and run.”

“You have earned the respect of Gekko. I will not forget this.” His visage wavered and disappeared. She didn’t know what happened after that. Her eyes closed and exhaustion took her.

Coming Soon in Star Wars: Lifeboat, Part VII…

Krest leads a boarding party onto the Stargazer seeking the holocron manual and her missing son, and ends up finding more than she bargained for when Aloo’s guards unleash an unexpected and powerful enemy against the shuttle crew. Meera struggles with her new-found abilities and what they are turning her in to, and Captain Vario finally wakes with a warning for her. Tune in next time!

Disclaimer

The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.

San Jacinto

“It is today, Sahale, that we celebrate your passage into manhood,” the old man said standing over the three boys. Eddie sat cross-legged by the fire while his best friends Danny and Zeke—known formally as Keokuk and Kele—circled him with smoldering sage bundles. The savory scented smoke washed over him in fragrant waves. The old man stood quiet and still while Eddie’s friends completed their tasks in the ritual. His dark eyes behind the deep and wise lines of age were fixed on Eddie’s face, making him shift uncomfortably. “Today, the Great Spirit will decide your destiny.”

His father called him Eddie when he was a baby. He usually went by that, but he liked his tribal name, too. Sahale meant higher place in Apache, but he only ever heard it when one of two things happened: First was from his mother when he was in trouble, and Eddie had caused a lot of that in his fourteen years. The second is when he was a part of official tribal business during the investigation of his father’s death. Today was the third time he’d been addressed with his native name formally by a tribal elder, his grandfather. After the rites we’re said, it was time.

“Away with you, Sahale. San Jacinto awaits,” the old man said with a dismissive wave. “Kele, Keokuk, tell Hania to prepare the way.”

The two boys led Eddie out of the Wikiup, where Hania, their medicine man, waited. He was a terrifying sight in his black and gray wolf’s head cloak and red-painted body. In his hand was a long spear and a small coil of rope. Danny was afraid of Hania anyway, even without the formal dress, but he had to be brave for his younger friend. Today was the day Eddie would either join their ranks as a brave of the Apache, or join with the Great Spirit and watch over them from the pastures of the sky. He looked over to Zeke, who gave a reassuring nod. They both handed their sage bundles to Eddie and sank back into the crowd gathered about to watch the spectacle.

“You are prepared. Come, Sahale,” was all Hania said, turning his back and walking toward the base of the cliff. The others around them, adorned in tribal finery no outsider had ever seen, erupted in whoops of encouragement. With ceremonial spears and bows raised in triumph, they willed Eddie forward. Bile climbed high in his throat. He looked up at the path before him as far as he could see to the peak of the great mountain, San Jacinto. It disappeared into the cold mist swirling above. Hania handed him the coil of rope, but held on to the spear. “Now we go up.”

Eddie heard stories of the bravery ceremony from as far back as he could remember. His grandfather loved to tell of his own trial with the Great Yellow Eagle. He remembered the old man’s words. One day Sahale, you will meet the Great Yellow Eagle, too he would say. Remember to hold the line. Never let go. Always hold the line. Now that he held it in his hand, he wondered if he was ready. It was just a rope after all, and nothing special. Hania turned, the black tail of his wolf cloak swaying, and started up the cliff trail. The old Apache medicine man and the young brave began their ascent. Eddie looked back to see Zeke and Danny hold their hands high for him. He would be so proud to return to them no longer as a boy, but their equal as a man.

Minutes became hours as the dusty, stone-covered trail continued upward. Eddie’s legs burned with the fire of inactivity. Grandfather warned him the trek would be difficult and that he should get out from the front of the white man’s electronic box. No good can come from white men preaching our destiny from miles away inside a box of wires, he would say. Only the Yellow Eagle knows what is best for we Apache, and a smarter coyote would have made many meals of roadrunner by this time. Eddie dismissed the old man’s warning with a scoff. He liked watching television, especially Saturday morning cartoons. Now the pain of understanding washed over him as they went higher and higher up the incline. Hania showed no fatigue at all. Eddie had to jog at times to keep up with the scary old medicine man.

Not a word was said between them until they reached what appeared to be the end of the trail into a sheer rock wall. “From here, you travel alone Sahale. I will greet you again where the Great Yellow Eagle perches on our world.” Hania gestured up where the rock face stopped, about a hundred feet above them. “Now climb.”

Eddie put the coiled rope over his shoulder, found a precarious hand and foot hold, and took a step up. The wind at this height blew hard from his left. Small bursts of dust clouded off the tiny rock shelves, stinging his eyes. He glanced back only to see Hania was gone. Was there another way up? he thought. Why couldn’t we just both go that way instead? However, he knew if he was to pass the trial, he must do what Hania said. Eddie closed his eyes. “Your name means higher place,” he said to himself. “Guess we’ll put that to the test.” Hand over hand, Eddie climbed skyward.

After the first few movements, his ascent became easier. The rock face had a gentle slope he couldn’t see looking up from the bottom. Another trial from the Yellow Eagle, he thought. This isn’t so bad. I’ll pass your test. I will be a brave today! More than once his handholds crumbled away, causing him to grasp onto whatever he could reach and rake his knuckles on the sharp rocks. Still, his grip held. Gusts of wind continued to sting his eyes and cheeks with sand as he went upward, hand over hand. With grim determination, he finally crested the cliff.

The rock ledge was about the size of his bedroom back home. He sat down to rest from the arduous climb and looked around. It was cold up here. The brisk breeze bit into his skin with a sharp chill. Peering down into the canyon where his journey began, he could barely make out the shape of the Wikiup and his family and tribe gathered, awaiting his triumphant return. Which ones are Zeke and Danny? he thought. Was Grandfather still waiting in the Wikiup? He wondered if they could see him from there. In the distance, a large city of the white man could be seen through the haze, a jagged scar piercing the skyline with its disdain for the natural shapes made by the Great Spirit. Above him, the white sun beat down from the clear blue ocean of the sky. He basked in what little warmth it offered for several minutes before getting to his feet, ready to take on the next part of his challenge.

Before him loomed a cave. Above the entrance, carved deep into the orange-tinted rock, was the unmistakable shape of the Great Yellow Eagle entangled with a serpent. Eddie did not know what it meant, but that was a sign that here is where his journey went next. His first darkened steps were met with the moist air from inside the earth, where his ancient ancestors would go escape the heat of the day. In the dim light, he could see more carvings and pictograms. Depictions of warriors hunting great buffalo, of owls and eagles, of wolves and creatures of the night adorned every surface. At the end of the shaft, just before all light diminished, was a depiction that gave him pause.

The unmistakable diamond-shaped head of a great serpent, a diamondback rattlesnake, gazed back at him through its narrow eye slits. He stepped closer to inspect the glyph. It was so life-like, Eddie felt like the eyes were watching him.

“Sahale!” came Hania’s voice from the dark. Eddie let out a shrill chirp in fright at hearing his voice. “Come. Your next trial awaits.” Hania sparked a flint onto a torch and the cavern glowed a dull orange. The acrid smoke of the old torch burned his nostrils. Hania turned to go deeper into the cave. Eddie followed with reluctance.

It was dark. So dark that Eddie had to place a hand on the wall as he walked the narrow path. Before long, the cave ended into a room with a small crackling fire set in a ring of rocks. The damp stones hissed from the moisture drawn from them by the heat. Hania motioned for Eddie to sit on one side while he sat opposite.

“Sahale, child of the Apache people and future warrior,” Hania said in a deep tone that echoed through the room. “Does your spirit tire, or are you still prepared?”

“I am prepared,” came the response his grandfather told him to say. “I am ready to face the trial of the Great Yellow Eagle. I will become a warrior among my people.”

“This is good, young brave,” Hania began. “Many moons have passed since the Great Spirit brought you to this world. Among his greatest creations is the Yellow Eagle, which our people revere.” The heat from the fire intensified. Eddie could feel the sweat forming on his brow, even though the temperature in the room was cool. Hania continued.

“Even Its’a, The Great Yellow Eagle was not without trials, and his greatest foe was T’iish, the serpent. Will you face the T’iish as Yellow Eagle has, and become one with him?”

“I will,” again was the prompted response. “I will become one with Yellow Eagle and face my trial with his blessing.”

“This is good,” Hania said, and lowered his head down. He began a low mumbling chant as Eddie stared into the fire, watching each glowing ember shift and squirm from the heat. The coals shimmered from red to orange to white and back as the fire intensified with Hania’s words. The chanting went on for several minutes. Eddie was mesmerized by the stillness of the room, the tone of Hania’s chant, and the tiny flickers in the dancing flames.

Time slowed. His legs grew numb. He didn’t know how long they had sat there in the dark. As he awoke from the fire’s trance, Eddie noticed a swaying movement above Hania’s head. He strained to see into the shadows, trying to determine what it was. It was small. Barely noticeable at first among the thick wolf pelt draped over the medicine man. Then, it broke through the shadows, growing in size and made its way over Hania’s shoulder, down next to the fire. Eddie froze with fear, eyes widening as a monstrous Western Diamondback moved effortlessly across the space between them. Its eyes were fixed on Eddie, just as the eerie glyph outside on the wall was. It was the same eyes. T’iish, Yellow Eagle’s nemesis, had come and now stood face to face with Eddie.

“Ssssahale,” it said as Hania continued his guttural chant in the background. “One named for the higher placessss. You come before me assss Yellow Eagle oncccce did. You think yoursssself brave assss he did?” Eddie was paralyzed as fear locked his muscles in place, rendering him stiff and still. “You wish to be known assss a brave among your peoplessss, the mighty Apache?” The snake continued his stealthy approach, now only inches from Eddie. It rose up it’s great body in front of his face, tongue flicking in search for prey. “I will decssside your worth, young warrior. Let ussss ssssee if you can withsssstand my bite.”

Eddie sat frozen and helpless as the giant rattler rose up into a coiled nightmare of fangs and scales. It lunged faster than eyes could see and buried its dripping fangs into his chest. The serpent’s venom poured into Eddie’s veins like lightning from an angry storm cloud. Every fiber in his body screamed in burning agony until the beast released its crushing bite. The serpent remained poised for another strike, weaving its head before Eddie’s face. Tears rolled down his swollen cheek while the venom’s liquid fire did its worst to his body, wracking him with pain.

“Now, young brave,” the snake hissed to him again. “We will ssssee what it issss that you fear. My venom sssspeakssss to your mind and revealssss your thoughtssss. Relive your nightmaressss and prove your worth to me.” Eddie still could not move. He strained to cry out and awaken Hania, but could not. His voice was drowned. The cry stayed locked in his burning chest. “You sssshall reccccieve the blessssing of the warrior if you can return to your peoplessss below. Yellow Eagle possessed great wingssss to return to the earth, yet you only carry a coil of rope, sssshaped much like me. Ironic, don’t you think? You musssst hold the line and prove your worth. If you cannot, you become one with the Great Sssspirit, and I sssshall be victorioussss yet again.”

Each scale began to glow with a white-hot fire all it’s own. All of the sudden, the snake burst into flame before Eddie’s eyes and Hania awoke with a start. Eddie was able to move again, but fell onto his back into violent convulsions when he did. The cave spun in wild circles as the venom took hold of his muscles and reflexes. Hania reached into his sack and pulled out a small buffalo hide, placing it over Eddie. The weight of the thick fur and dense skin was comforting to him, as if the pressure of the heavy hide would suppress his body’s revolt. His shaking mercifully stopped but he was no longer in control of his faculties. His head rolled to the side and spittle pooled below his mouth on the dusty floor.

Next, Hania took out a large ceremonial rattle, painted red and adorned with two eagle feathers, and a bundle of sage. He passed the sage through the fire to catch the embers. Though he could not move, Eddie could discern the unmistakable scent. He waved the bundle and the totem over Eddie and shook it at different times in the highs and lows of an ancient chant only the medicine men would know. Ashes of the burnt sage nestled in the hide, also giving Eddie a distinct scent of burning hair.

“Sahale,” Hania said after what felt like an eternity of this. “you have faced the first trial and now will continue on your own journey. I leave with you this eagle feather.” Hania held up the rattle and plucked a feather out of the adornment. He nestled it into Eddie’s constricted fist. “Never release this feather. It is your link to the world of the living; your life line. You will have a vision. The demons will come and they will torment you. Show no fear and return to us as a brave. Hold the line, Sahale. May the Great Spirit watch over you until we meet again.” With that, Hania stood, took up his satchel and left the cave.

Eddie’s mind screamed out to him not to leave but his paralyzed body and mouth betrayed his fears. He was left alone to face whatever came next. And what did Hania say it would be? Demons? As if the serpent wasn’t bad enough, now something else was coming?

The tiny flame in the rock circle threw dancing shadows around the room. He could see the fire in the corner of his eye as the scorching venom ran its course. Every nerve shrieked in agony yet he still could not move. In his fingers, he could feel the coarseness of the feather shaft. One flicker of his finger was all he could muster to clutch it tighter.

Stay anchored to the feather, he thought. Hania said to never let it go. No matter what comes for me, hold tight!

Eddie lay prostrate beneath the buffalo hide staring into the fire. He had no concept of time. All he felt was the rage of the snake’s toxin wreaking havoc on his senses. His ears rang. His pulse pounded as the venom raged through him. He could taste it in his mouth. He could feel it in his heart.

Am I dying? It feels like dying…

Slowly, letting go of life…

That’s when he heard footsteps in the gravel.

Who’s there? Has someone come to save me?

Eddie was still unable to move, his spindly limbs locked in shape by some unnatural bond he could only feel, not see. The sound of gravel crunching underfoot came closer. His eyes strained in the sockets to see who had come to save him but the range of his vision was limited and he could not see who it was. Was it his grandfather? Did Zeke or Danny follow them up here? Please, he thought. I’m here! Please let it be someone who has come to help.

“I cannot help you in that way, Sahale,” came a deep voice with a strong Apache accent. “I am no medicine man.” The footsteps came closer and suddenly a foot wrapped in an adorned leather moccasin stepped into his view. The unknown man strode past the fire and sat cross-legged in the same place Hania was when the snake first appeared. “As much as I would like to help you, I am forbidden to interfere in that manner by the Great Spirit. However, I can guide you on your journey, Sahale. Your thoughts are open to me. I can share in your nightmares.”

Eddie stared at the man through the dancing flames. He was young, but carried the mantle of an elder. His face held the deep lines of age and wisdom, yet appeared youthful, like someone who has seen many seasons but still clung to their child-like appearance. His long raven-dark hair hung in two braids over either shoulder and was held back by a golden beaded band. Two eagle feathers hung with the braids. He wore a simple pair of leather leggings with a bright red breechcloth. Across his chest was a bead and bone breastplate encrusted with silver and turquoise finery. He stared at Eddie through the dark pools of his eyes for a long while before speaking again.

“Before long, young child Sahale, the venom that paralyzes you will dissipate and you will rise again.” Not once did his piercing gaze waver. “When it does, you will be given a choice, much as I was when I faced the same trial.”

Who are you?

“Ah, there you have it.” The man smiled for the first time, revealing his brilliant white teeth. “As your mind makes questions, I will be able to answer them.”

I said, who are you?

“In time, brave Sahale, in time. But who either of us are is not important right now.” He continued to stare at Eddie, never so much as blinking. “So tell me, child of the Apache, why do you deserve to become a brave among your people?”

Because I am fourteen. It is my time to become a warrior.

The man chuckled. “You think it is age that makes you ready? That the number of seasons you have lived makes you a brave? Perhaps I should ask a different question, Sahale. What do you fear?”

That was a question Eddie hoped he would not have to answer.

Images started flowing through Eddie’s mind; memories of his childhood. His thoughts finally settled on a particular cool desert night. He recognized the landscape instantly.

“No, please no. Not this night…”

When he was eight, his father gave him a rifle—a Winchester bolt-action .243—for his birthday. Mother was against it. She argued he was too young, but his father soothed her fears and assured her he would teach him how to use it safely. Every day, they would go to the field behind their house and shoot tin cans. He loved that time with his father more than anything. Later that summer, coyotes killed several goats at his grandfather’s house on the reservation and the men decided they must find the pack and drive them off. So, on a bright moonlit night, they set out into the hills following the coyote tracks. They brought Eddie and his rifle along but assured his mother he would not have live ammunition. It’s just for show, his father said. The boy should come with the men and learn how to hunt.

Eddie never felt more alive than he did that night, walking the game trail through the brush and tracking those yipping bandits. As they walked quietly along, Eddie’s father held out his closed fist and dropped a single bullet into his little hands.

“Coyotes in large numbers can be dangerous,” his father said as he dropped the shiny brass shell down to Eddie’s gloved hands. “You must be able to protect yourself. Load up like I taught you, and if we see one, wait until I tell you to shoot.” Eddie slid back the bolt in eager agreement. The bullet slipped in with ease, and the smooth clicking sound of the oiled bolt locking it into place gave Eddie power. Confidence surged through him. Now, he was ready for anything.

This part of the reservation was isolated and dark. The moon was brilliant white, mostly eliminating the need for flashlights. The three of them hiked quietly in single file through the soft sand. His father in the front, him in the middle, and grandfather at the back. They walked for hours without finding a thing. It was just after midnight when his grandfather decided to call off the hunt for the night. Eddie yawned in agreement despite his earlier enthusiasm. His rifle became too heavy a hour ago so his dad shouldered it for him. He was past ready to go back to the truck.

Suddenly, howls and yips erupted off to their right. The coyote pack finally revealed themselves… and they were close! Eddie’s dad handed him back his rifle. The burst of adrenaline brought him back into the moment and the excitement came flooding back.

“Let’s circle around them,” his father whispered to his grandfather. “You and Eddie go below them. I will go above. Make noise when you’re close to scare them towards me. We’ll drive them to the far rocks and corner them there.”

His grandfather nodded in agreement. “Great Spirit watch over you.”

“Great Spirit watch over us all,” he said back. Eddie’s father stalked off through the brush. Then his grandfather knelt down to Eddie’s level. “You stay right behind me, Sahale,” he said. “Always right behind me.” He nodded in agreement and they walked slowly down the trail to flank the pack.

The eerie cries continued as the pack carried on their demonic racket. Eddie’s heart was pounding. His first hunt! Even though he only had one bullet, he was determined to make it count to keep his grandfather’s livestock safe from these canine fiends. The pack whooped and howled in a frenzy. “They must have cornered something,” grandfather said. “They only carry on like that when they have found prey. Let’s drive them away and save whatever they have caught. Make noise!”

Eddie’s grandfather started wailing like nothing Eddie had ever heard before. Eddie gleefully joined in and followed his grandfather deeper into the brush towards the pack. In the distance, Eddie could hear his father doing the same thing. The coyote cries went silent as the three of them raised all the hell they could muster. The yips came fewer and more distant. The pack was moving away from Eddie and his grandfather’s position and towards his father at the rocks, just like he said. It was working!

Suddenly, the night was split by the report of his father’s AR-15. Eddie and his grandfather stopped running for a moment and listened. Chaos erupted from where Eddie’s father was. Cracks from the rifle mixed in with the yelps and cries of injured coyotes. Then they heard an unexpected sound. Eddie’s father was crying for help.

His grandfather took off in a sprint that did not seem possible for a man his age. Eddie moved as fast as he could to keep up but still fell behind. One misstep on a loose rock sent Eddie face first into a patch of chicory. His rifle and flashlight flew further into the brush and out of sight. He got up and checked for chollas, just in case there was a cactus in there. Fortunately for him there wasn’t so he started feeling the ground for his gun. Abruptly, everything went silent. The shooting stopped and the coyotes quit sounding their cry. He strained to listen for his father and grandfather but couldn’t hear either of them. The night became quiet as a tomb. He scurried around more and found his flashlight at the base of a bush, but where was his rifle? Eddie dropped to his knees and crawled around frantically, to find it. With heart pounding, he crawled about in a panic until his hand finally touched the cold steel barrel of his Winchester. That’s when he heard the first growl.

Eddie froze. A second growl came from behind him. Then a third. With wide-eyed fear, he clicked on his light. Dotting the landscape in the beam before him were what seemed to be a thousand dark orange eyes reflecting back.

…Coyotes in large numbers can be dangerous…

“Eddie!?” his father called out in the distance. “Eddie, where are you?” but he sounded too far away to help.

…You must be able to protect yourself…

The closest set of orange eyes gave a piercing howl and snarled. With teeth bared, it took a quick step toward him. Eddie scurried to his feet and dropped the light but raised the rifle. The light landed badly and broke, shrouding him in darkness. His eyes strained to adjust.

… if we see one, wait until I tell you to shoot…

“Eddie? Answer me, son! I’m coming!”

More yips and snarls erupted from the dark around him. Sounds of movement came from all directions. They were circling. The pack was closing in on him! A loud crashing suddenly came through the brush in front of him.

…You must be able to protect yourself…

“Eddie? Where are you!?”

The big coyote had sprung toward Eddie in the dark! It was now or never.

Eddie squeezed the trigger and his rifle split the night, silencing everything around him. Echoes of the report bounced from boulder to boulder. He fell back from the kick of the round, knocking him on his backside. The barks and howling wailed as the pack bolted into the night from the loud rifle shot. Eddie lay in a daze, panting in heavy breaths and ears ringing from the sound, hoping his aim was true. Otherwise the next thing he would feel was teeth pulling his throat out, but the bite never came. Out of the darkness, rough hands grabbed him up by his collar, pulling him up into a forced embrace. It was his grandfather. Eddie burst into sobbing tears.

“My boy. You’re safe now,” his grandfather said soothingly. “Don’t look, it’s okay. It was an accident. You’re safe now.”

“I’m sorry, grandpa,” Eddie blubbered out. “You said right behind you, but I fell. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay, boy. You’re safe now. It was just an accident.”

“No,” Eddie cried. “No, it wasn’t an accident, grandpa! I meant to shoot that coyote.”

“I know you did, Sahale, I know you did, but it was an accident. You couldn’t see him.”

“What?” he asked and tried to look, but his grandfather held him tighter.

“No, boy. Don’t look. It was an accident.”

Eddie forced himself away and looked back to see his father sprawled out on the desert floor. Across the chest of his light grey sweatshirt was a slick, dark pool that was flowing down onto the ground beneath him. The last thing Eddie remembered was his own high-pitched scream as his grandfather squeezed him closer. That was the last memory he had of his father.

The dancing rock fire cast a large shadow behind the man as he stood up and put another oak log on it. “The venom of the serpent shows us a great many things,” the man said. “Your medicine man, Hania, told you demons would visit you and not to fear. What many do not recognize is that the only demons and fear they meet are the ones they brought up the mountainwith them. They are already inside. Here,” the man pointed to his forehead, “and here.” His fingers rested over his heart. Reaching up into his golden headband, he pulled out one of his eagle feathers and twirled it in his fingers. He moved over and knelt down at Eddie’s side.

“You have faced your demon with bravery. You are worthy, and now you must decide.”

Decide what?

He rolled Eddie’s head upright and placed the feather across his forehead. “You must decide if you can exist with your demon, or if you cannot. Your demon will always be with you on the earth. If you decide, you may stay here with it and become a brave of the Apache.” The man clapped his hands hard and rubbed them together. He placed one hand over the feather on Eddie’s forehead and one hand over the serpent bite. His touch was hot, burning like a glowing iron over the bite, but the hand on his forehead over the feather was cool and calming. Eddie, still immobile, inhaled a sharp breath and screamed out.

“I met your father here many seasons ago,” the man said, “He carried great fear within him. In his vision, he foresaw his own death, but that his sacrifice would save a life. That sacrifice would come out of great fear. Not your fear, but his. I shared in his vision just as I have shared in yours. Even then, the coyote terrified your father. That was his demon. When the time came for him to choose, he stayed to live with his demon, comforted that he would face his fear to save a life—your life—even though he was destined lose his own. He resides with the Great Spirit now, and has great pride in you, young Sahale. Now rise.”

The man removed his hands from the bite and Eddie’s forehead. All of the emotion and pain from reliving his nightmare came rushing through Eddie’s body like a raging river. Though groggy and painfully difficult, he could move again, but only just. The man helped Eddie to his feet and steadied him. The room was still spinning faster than his head could keep up with.

“I have slowed the venom enough for you to decide. Should you choose to stay, take your rope and begin your descent. If you choose to leave, I will carry you to meet the Great Spirit. I await you outside, Sahale of the Apache peoples. Think on this and make your choice.”

The man leaned Eddie against the wall and walked out, leaving him to think about his decision. This was nothing like he thought it would be. Neither his grandfather nor Hania prepared him for anything that he just experienced. The weight of emotion at remembering the death of his father crushed him like an avalanche. Eddie fell to his knees and sobbed. He tried to bury his feelings of guilt and remorse over his father’s death. Grandfather told everyone it was an accident, but that wasn’t true at all. It wasn’t an accident that killed his father. Eddie never believed it, and he didn’t think anyone else did either. But was it? Was it truly an accident?

No.

It was Eddie’s cowardice.

His fear killed his father.

The realization of this truth hit him hard. All this time, Eddie carried the guilt in his heart. It weighed him down like a stone tethered to his soul. He ached every time he saw his mother cry over the only photo they had of him. Grandfather would say his time with the Great Spirit was needed, and that is why he was gone. They both told Eddie it wasn’t his fault. He never believed them. But in facing his guilt, there was doubt. He accepted that maybe it was all an accident. Some terrible, awful accident. Now he must decide is he can live with his fear and guilt, or succumb to it.

Eddie couldn’t remember how long he sat there before finally gathering the strength to get up again. The venom,though diminished, continued coursing through him. It slowed his movements and clouded his vision. He wondered how long he would feel this way. When he emerged from the cave, the man with the golden head band stood at the edge of the overhang waiting for him. A cold white wind dusted up a light snow around them. The biting icy air made Eddie pull the buffalo hide tighter to his shoulders, but the shirtless man seemed unaffected by it. He staggered up face to face with the man. They stood there for several minutes before he spoke.

“Have you made your decision, Sahale?”

“I… I have.”

“And what have you chosen?” Eddie held open the buffalo hide and extended out his arms. In one hand, he held the coil of rope, and clutched tightly in the other was the eagle feather. The man looked down at his hands and spoke again. “You cannot hold both. Whichever you release decides your fate. Choose.”

Eddie looked down at his hands, first at the feather. “I hold the line; the line of strength that pulls me through the fear. My fear is that I am the cause of my father’s death.” He then looked at the rope. “I hold the line; the line of life that anchors me to the world I know and the people I love. Tell me, Yellow Eagle, if you were me, what would you choose?”

 “I, like you, faced the same trials. My demons were many. I, like you, also came before the Great Spirit with a rope and feather in hand, asking the same question.” The wind and snow flurries danced around them. Flecks of white clung to Yellow Eagle’s dark hair. He reached up and placed his hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “I could not live with my demons and chose to go with the Great Spirit. Unlike you, I was not brave enough to make peace with them.”

Eddie smiled. “You speak as if you know already know what I have decided.”

Yellow Eagle smiled back. “I have always known what you would decide.” He extended his hand out. Eddie looked down at it and handed him back his feather. Yellow Eagle smiled wide. “Live well, Sahale, of the higher places, brave warrior of the Apache. May the Great Spirit watch over you until we meet again.” He affixed the feather back in his headband and walked to the cliff’s edge, extending his hand in a farewell wave. Then, he turned and gracefully dove off the edge into the flurry of white. Eddie ran to the edge when suddenly a great Golden Eagle soared up past him, crying out to the wind and declaring that Sahale, brave of the Apache, was returning home.

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part V

Last time in our fan fiction Star Wars: Lifeboat

Inda Krest, Meera Dyre and the rest of the surviving Imperials from the Death Star II arrive at Volusia to raid the Aloo Family star yacht, only to be ambushed by the opportunistic bounty hunter, Gekko!

Now, in Part V, we flash back a final time to join Darth Vader and Lieutenant Seeda at The Temple of the Kyber on the ancient moon of Jedha. The Emperor has ordered his apprentice to restart the stalled Kyber crystal excavation and retrieve two artifacts from the temple. While the crystal mining gets back underway, a rebel faction on Jedha, led by the outlaw Saw Gerrera, learns of Vader’s arrival at the temple and attempts to take him out. And now, Part V

Temple of the Kyber, The Holy City, Moon of Jedha – 1BBY (5 years earlier)

credit: Luscafilm

Darth Vader never felt such a strong disturbance in the Force as he did the day his ship entered orbit over the ancient moon of Jedha. Many considered the moon to be the site of the first Jedi Temple. In reality, Jedha held the largest known deposits of natural Kyber crystals in the galaxy, and the Empire’s mining operation of those crystals had stalled. Completion of Project: Stardust depended on restarting the mine, despite the obstacles the operation faced. Kyber wasn’t the only thing plentiful on Jedha. The moon was crawling with troublesome rebels, known as The Partisans. Completion of his fortress on Mustafar would have to wait. The Emperor needed Vader on Jedha to ensure the crystals were harvested without further incident.

His master commanded. Vader obeyed.

He sat in his stateroom watching their approach from the video feed at the nose of the ship. The Holy City of Jedha sat atop a mesa in the middle of a vast desert. The smashed ruins of the Imperial ground base sat in the foothills before it. Rebels had sacked it a month prior, delaying Kyber harvesting and forcing the mining operation to move aboard the Star Destroyer Dauntless, which now hovered above the city. As he watched, the disturbance pulsated as the crystals cried out in agony. Something was disturbing them, sending shock waves through the Force unlike anything he had ever felt.

Imperial Navy Destroyer Dauntless over Jedha City

In the shadow of the Dauntless stood the ancient Temple of the Kyber, dominating the skyline of the bustling city formed around it. The two towering forked spires jutted into the sky as if to tune the very winds to the will of its masters. He noted the similarities the structure to Momin’s final design of Fortress Vader back on Mustafar. A simple coincidence? Perhaps the Force brought me here with purpose after all, he mused. He surmised the design must be significant in channeling the energies of the Force. He would consult with Momin’s depraved Sith spirit upon his return home. Fortress Vader on Mustafar must serve the same purpose as the temple here on Jedha, but to a greater degree. Still, the crystals wept.

Four TIE-Interceptors took up flanking positions on their final approach to the Dauntless. The comm speaker buzzed and a caption appeared on Vader’s screen showing the burly Commander Kyson, resplendent in the fineries of his formal Imperial uniform.

“Lord Vader, you honor us with your presence on Jedha. How may my forces and I be of service?”

“Commander Kyson,” Lord Vader growled back. “Your Kyber refinement production is behind schedule. I am here to update your process and reignite your passion for meeting The Emperor’s deadlines.”

“I assure you, my Lord, we are operating at full capacity,” came the timid reply. “We boast the highest efficiency rating from Imperial Industrial Command, and from Director Krennic.”

“The Emperor does not share your enthusiasm for that rating. What is the status of your progress?”

“In a word, my Lord, remarkable. We are excavating the largest crystal ever recorded in the Imperial archives. The size is well beyond what is needed for Stardust’s main weapon. It connects into a chamber under the temple we cannot explain, and we are studying it’s structure before proceeding. Removing it could collapse the whole temple. Surely this momentous discovery merits a merciful delay.”

“The Emperor is a great many things that I am not, Commander, and one of them is merciful. Prepare to receive my shuttle and appropriate escort to your excavation site. I’ll will see this progress-hindering crystal myself,” Vader replied in annoyance.

“Of course, my Lord. Our finest battalion will escort you at your leisure.”

“Tell me of the rebels that plague your operation,” Vader asked, abruptly changing the subject.

Kyson shifted uncomfortably. “Vermin and local scum, my lord. Nothing more than paltry annoyance, I assure you. My men are dealing with them swiftly.” He tried to sound confident, but Vader knew he was lying.

“That is your error, Commander. You do not deal with rebels; you crush them. Your lack of fortitude emboldens their attacks. I will assume command of your three attack battalions and see them destroyed. Have your battle plans prepared for my review.” Kyson kept his composure, but Vader could sense the insult spark an anger brimming over in the sluggard officer. For too long, Orson Krennic’s pet, Commander Kyson, has sat safely on his laurels. It was time for a change to his operations, whether Krennic wanted it or not. “The rebels have continuously embarrassed you and the Empire, Commander Kyson. I will no longer accept delay as an excuse for laziness.”

“At once, My lord. We await your arrival with great antici—”

“Your pleasantries are not required, only your compliance.” He ended the transmission.

The only thing Vader expected to find in Kyson’s strategy was more excuses, delays and failures. In his mind, Vader already knew the battle plan he would follow, using himself as bait to lure out the rebels. No doubt the brazen extremist Saw Gerrera would seize the opportunity to strike such a large target as Darth Vader, and when he did, the trap would spring. He tapped a key at his console and the Empire’s last verified image of Gererra—in a flickering, blue-lined hologram—emerged upward from the projector.

The Emperor knew Vader would be tempted to prioritize hunting the rebels over recovering artifacts, especially considering the history Anakin Skywalker and Gerrera had during the Clone Wars. Darth Vader was no errand boy. Seeda and his two pet Royal Guards could excavate the entire moon if they wished. Vader was a warrior, and today he would strike down his old rebel opponent without mercy.

“All those years ago, you should have died on Onderon with your sister, yet here you are—still vexing my authority,” Vader said to himself, staring down into the image of this rebel from his past. He reached out with an open hand and his lightsaber flew to his side, pulled to him by the Force and ignited the room in a bright red glow. “It will be my pleasure to finally end you.”

At the rear of the shuttle, Lieutenant Seeda looked out the viewing window at the desolate landscape trailing behind them.

Ruins of ancient Jedi civilization crumbled to dust in their wake. Jedha was a historical treasure-trove of Jedi lore. Seeda was excited to be here, though he could not outwardly express it. He couldn’t wait to get down there to root out Jedha’s secrets, but enthusiasm for anything other than the Empire’s goals was frowned upon. The pilot announced their final approach as the shuttle passed underneath the great shadow of the destroyer. Seeda could see other large cargo shuttles taking off for the surface after unloading their Kyber hauls.

“Lieutenant Seeda,” came the booming electronic voice of Darth Vader behind him, startling Seeda and making him jump with surprise. How could he have not heard him approach? “Are you prepared for your mission?”

“Yes, my lord. My apologies, you startled me. I am completely prepared. I’ve uploaded the latest Imperial archives on Jedha and her histo—”

“Good. When we arrive, you will have access to all records of artifacts recovered from the temple. Report to me immediately if any discoveries contain ancient Sith references. When your analysis is complete, you will muster with the escort protection detail and proceed to the Temple.”

“Of course, my lord. Though, Jedha was the home of ancient Jedi, not the Sith. Do you expect we’ll find anything to the contrary?”

“Focus on your area of expertise, Lieutenant. Once you have something, report to me at once. Tell no one of your discoveries except me. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Lord Vader, perfectly clear.”

As the shuttle settled into the hangar, they gathered at the ramp to debark. Through the viewing window, they could see another shuttle being off-loaded with canisters of what Seeda assumed were Kyber crystals. The only sound among them was the intermittent electronic breath of Darth Vader. The sound made Seeda uncomfortable.

“If I may say, it does appear moving the mining operation aboard the Dauntless has guaranteed greater security,” Seeda said and instantly regretted it. The casual manner of their conversation lulled him into a false sense of familiarity with the Sith Lord. Darth Vader did not answer to anyone except the Emperor, especially not a lowly Imperial Navy lieutenant.

Seeda braced for reprisal for his insolence, but the response he received surprised him.

“Your observations on security protocol is not required,” Vader dismissed the notion with a wave of the hand. “However, your assumption is wrong. The loss of surface operations has doubled the resources needed to refine the crystals. Commander Kyson is a fool. He has more than enough troops to secure the city, yet he hesitates because he is weak. I will not tolerate interference from his ineptitude, nor the rebels, with this mission.”

Seeda looked up at the massive black-clad figure with a puzzled look. “Won’t you be joining our expedition force to the Temple site?”

“The Emperor’s pets will keep you safe,” Vader said, gesturing to the guards behind them. “I have a more important matter to attend. I will join you once my trap is set.”

“Trap, my lord? I don’t unders—” The hiss of the nose ramp lowering drowned out the rest of his statement. In a flourish of black robes, Vader turned down the ramp with Seeda in step. Immediately after him, the two guards filed behind. A throng of pristine, white-clad Storm Troopers in a robust display of Empirical might were assembled on deck. At their head, a hulking officer in his formal Imperial uniform turned to greet them.

“Lord Vader, this is a most unexpec—” were the only words he got out. Vader extended his hand, stopping his speech in mid-sentence. The large officer lifted from the ground, his shined boots flailing as he clutched his throat and gasped for air. With a slow twist of other his wrist, Vader plucked the struggling Commander’s code cylinders from his breast pocket. They hovered out before the wide eyes of Kyson as he gasped. The tiny cylinders flew to Vader’s outstretched hand.

“Commander Kyson, you are relieved.”

Vader flicked his wrist, and the officer soared across the hangar to the open cargo bay doors. His breath returned in time for Seeda to hear his final scream as he plummeted from the Dauntless into the sands of Jedha far below. Vader turned to Seeda and extended his hand, passing the cylinders to him.

“The records I require reside in Kyson’s office. You may begin.” Vader then turned to address the mass of Storm Troopers assembled before them. “You will stabilize a route to the Temple below. Clear the streets and lock down the city. Let none stand in your way!” His challenge was met with a stomp to attention and a thousand white-armored raised fists.

Residents of the Holy City below were about to understand what it meant to be ruled by the Empire.

The holotable in Kyson’s office was already lit when Seeda arrived. The guards took flanking positions outside the door as it hissed shut, leaving him to work undisturbed. Before him, projecting up six feet into the room, was a holographic maze of green lines outlining the tunnels explored thus far beneath the Temple of the Kyber. Blinking red dots showed at the end of each tunnel with active excavation, and dots of blue marked tunnels already mined and abandoned. At the base of the map was a large, flashing yellow arrow. A few taps at the keyboard told Seeda this is where excavation has halted because of a massive crystal blocking the path forward. He zoomed in the projection to the highest resolution on the yellow area and could see why this brought production to a stand-still.

The crystal truly was a one-of-a-kind discovery. A quick scan of his Imperial archive records showed no other of this size or arrangement ever recorded. Even more unique was the crystal, itself. It was hollow, creating a chamber within, but the energy signature of the structure blocked whatever was inside it. It was also directly beneath the split towers, making the massive crystal an integral part of the foundation.

So that’s why you delayed all this, Kyson, he thought while intently studying the holographic data. One wrong move and the whole temple comes crashing down.

Seeda sneered. He hadn’t properly set foot on Jedha yet, and her secrets were already spilling into his hands.

Based on his records, a Kyber crystal of this size and properly harnessed could power half of Coruscant for decades. He understood Kyson’s desire to harvest it whole. That feat would certainly have gained favor with the Emperor, but patience was not a virtue encouraged by the Empire, as Kyson probably realized when he fell three-thousand feet to his death moments before. He was about to close his data-pad and compile his report for Lord Vader when a filename blip on the screen caught his eye:

Whills – Black Sun Sith glyph

The title said Whills and followed by an ancient Sith symbol; Borzûm, the Black Sun. “Well, hello there little symbol, what are you doing here?” Seeda again tapped again at the keys bringing up the file.

The symbol was a small black circle with black rays emanating forth, very similar to the symbol adopted by the Empire but not encircled. To the untrained eye, it could easily be mistaken for a sloppy rendition of the latter, but Seeda recognized it immediately. He plugged Kyson’s code cylinder into the console and the file opened. Seeda drank in every word and image within, reading as fast as he could. Kyson had made an incredible discovery and didn’t even know it! He ran to the door, knocking over his chair in his excitement. He burst into the hallway, where Captains Vario and Krest were startled by his sudden appearance. They dropped their Force pikes into defensive positions, ready to attack before realizing it was just their charge in an excited state.

“Quickly, Captain!” he shouted at Vario. “Contact Lord Vader immediately. I’ve made a momentous discovery!”

Within minutes, the office door hissed open to a mass of black robes sweeping through the opening. “What have you discovered?” There was never fanfare with Darth Vader. He spoke, and others obeyed.

“My lord, I’ve made tremendous progress!” Seeda could no longer contain his excitement, even in front of the terrifying dark lord. “Commander Kyson was on the verge of the most incredible find in galactic history and didn’t know what he was doing!”

“Unless you wish to share his fate, explain yourself,” Vader commanded. “Speak plainly, Lieutenant.”

“It’s not simply just a large Kyber Crystal, per say—,” he replied.

“I grow tired of your enigmatic mutterings. What have you found, Seeda?”

“My lord, it’s a vault… A vault of the Whills.”

Vader was silent for a moment as he mulled over Seeda’s claim. He knew of midichlorians and the Whills, however, he long ago dismissed their existence as Jedi dogma; a way for the Republic’s Jedi Masters to arbitrarily judge the worthiness and strength of a Jedi Knight. Just another myth perpetuated for control. For now, he would entertain Seeda’s notion until he could discover the true nature of this revelation. “And what is in this vault?”

“What’s inside it is what’s inside you, Lord Vader… inside is what you desire most!” Seeda replied in excitement. “You see, the Whills ar—”

Vader was intrigued, but not convinced yet. “And what of this Borzûm? This Black Sun?”

“A mystery I cannot yet explain, my lord,” Seeda turned back to the keyboard and brought up the symbol on the holotable. The glyph spun in a slow circle, casting long shadows throughout the room. “The Borzûm is an ancient Sith philosophical symbol, a Memento Mori of sorts, used by Sith Lords of old as a reminder of mortality; a glorification of the idea we are all dead men walking under a black sun. For the most ambitious of them, the Borzûm was taken as a challenge to achieve immortality and defeat death before it defeated them. But why a Sith symbol is prominently carved into the wall of a Jedi holy site eludes me. It shouldn’t be here.”

Suddenly, all the pieces of this mystery began to fall into place in Darth Vader’s mind.

Could this truly be what he has sought after all this time? Is this how he can return Padme to the world of the living? The works of Darth Plagueis were here, finally, a mere parsec of where he stood. So many questions with so few answers. He must find out more. “You believe the vault contains the arcane Sith knowledge to cheat death?” he asked Seeda.

He shuffled a moment in uncomfortable silence. Not having an answer for Lord Vader could be a death sentence at times. This could be one of those times, as Seeda had no idea what was inside the vault. “I cannot answer that for certain, but all I have seen on the subject suggests that yes, it may be so.” He braced for the reply.

“Make preparations, Lieutenant,” Vader said with impatience and spun on his heel toward the door. “We leave for the Temple at once.”

The streets to the Temple were lined with Storm Troopers going house-to-house. The people of Jedha City were strewn about around them; standing with their hands up, lying prone as their homes were searched, or laying dead in the gutters. All of them were facing the barrel of an E-11 standard-issue Imperial Blaster. The Empire descended like a hammer into the populace and laid waste to those who resisted. The armored transport rumbled through the middle of it, finally halting in front of the Temple steps where Darth Vader and Varon Seeda debarked to begin the second part of their mission. Captains Vario and Krest took up flanks beside them. A battalion of Storm Troopers formed ranks between them and the street rabble behind. Even so, Lieutenant Seeda was nervous.

“We should have taken a shuttle, my lord,” Seeda remarked as they went inside. “You are too exposed using ground transport. The city’s unrest could boil over any moment.”

“Again, you offer assessment of security protocols without prompting. A third assessment will ensure you are transferred to the ISB front lines.”

Seeda knew when it was best to stay silent. Vader did not need further reply from him, only compliance. He mounted his holo-pad to his wrist and the same map from Kyson’s office sprung up from his hand projector. “The tunnel entrance is behind the altar. This way.” They marched through the crumbling ruins of long-forgotten statues of ancient Jedi and columns carved in Aurebesh, and other languages Seeda could not begin to understand. He wanted to stop and study each one, but Darth Vader remained laser-focused on the tunnels below. As he said, on the floor behind the altar was a large hole into the ground. A stone-carved stair went down into darkness. “The excavation continues below. We need to be mindfu—”

“The Emperor’s prize awaits us, and he is not as patient as I. Lead me to the vault.” Vader commanded. He could still hear the crystals and their wails of agony. The closer they drew to the altar, the louder they were. Something beneath the Temple was making them scream out through the Force.

Seeda descended first. Darth Vader took one step down and suddenly, the wailing of the crystals ceased. Silence.

Vader could sense them all turning their attunement to him, reaching out to him, searching his mind to find out who now walks among them so powerful in the Force. He could tell the Force-sensitive guards noticed the quiet as well. He could hear a tiny voice echo through to him but could not discern what it said. With each step deeper into Jedha, the voice steadily grew. Then, he could hear it plainly.

Come to us, Chosen One, it said. We await your presence.

He did not reply, but pressed on behind Seeda, his hand at the ready over his lightsaber. He detected no danger in the voice, but something about it made Vader uneasy.

Beware, Chosen One, it said again. One among you is not what they appear. You are in danger.

As they descended further down, they passed Imperial workers continuing to mine their crystals, though they stopped at the spectacle of Darth Vader passing among them in the tunnels. Each stopped working and saluted smartly as the party passed, but Vader paid them little mind. The voice kept speaking to him with each step, warning him.

You are in danger, Chosen one. One below will betray you. Enter the kyber vault. We will protect you and your companions. The others shall perish.

They wove a path through the gaunt faces of miners. Most were prisoners or conscripts from the locals. Storm Troopers from the 43rd Salagori Lancers were stationed every few meters to keep them in line. Their eyes all fell to the ground when Vader passed. He could sense their fear as he traversed the tunnel lower and lower to the source of the voices. He could not determine if the Royal Guards heard them, too. If they did, they did not react.

Kyber foundation of The Temple of the Kyber, Jedha

The deeper into the cavern they went, the more workers were present.

We await you, Chosen One. Make haste.

“We’re almost there, my lord. The entrance should be just ahead.” Seeda adjusted his instruments and zoomed in on their location. “The energy emanating from these caverns is creating interference with—”

“It is not the crystals…” Lord Vader stopped. Turning to his left, he reached out his hand and a shriek of agony came from a group of prisoners huddled against the wall. The Royal Guards ran forward and pulled forward a man in rags, and in his hand was a transmitter beacon. Two Storm Troopers rushed forward and forced the man to the ground, but it was not necessary. Vader had already crushed his windpipe. He took his final gasp as the transmitter rolled from his dead hand to Seeda’s feet. He picked it up and turned it off. Suddenly, his instruments sparked back to life.

“He is here…” Vader said. He turned swiftly to the two Lancers and they snapped to attention. “Troopers, form ranks behind us and remove this rabble from our path! Seeda, get me to that chamber. We are not safe here for long.”

Hurry, Chosen One. It is urgent we speak.

As the troopers herded the miners back up the tunnel, blaster fire erupted behind them. Seeda jumped with a start.

“Keep going, Lieutenant.”

The sounds of battle erupted behind them as they quickened their pace down the tunnel. Vader could feel the walls tremble as they delved deeper down. The crystals reached out to him, driving him lower into the mine, drawing him closer to the source of the voices.

Make haste, Chosen One. Your enemy is upon you.

The cavern opened around a sharp bend and opened into a small chamber. The walls glittered with kyber fragments, drawing their eyes to the back of the chamber. Before them was a solid wall of opaque crystal, easily five times the height of a man. They could not see the top or bottom, and both sides were occluded by the rock walls. There was no way for certain to determine how big it actually was. On the floor before it, in a sunken and faded relief carving, was distinctly the Borzûm.

They are behind you.

“Welcome to Jedha, Darth Vader,” came a raspy voice from the cavern entrance. They all turned to see a large man in well-worn armor, flanked by four heavily armed miners. The Royal Guards took defensive positions in front of Vader and Seeda. Vader suddenly lit the small room red by igniting his lightsaber.

“Saw Gerrera.”

Saw Gerrera confronts Darth Vader

“This is indeed a joyous day, my brothers,” Saw said as he took a long pull of oxygen from a face mask in his armor. “Today, we remove a major piece from the galactic board. Today will be remembered as the day we buried Darth Vader beneath the Holy City.”

“And there is your mistake, rebel. Your arrogance has blinded you and your sycophants.” He pulled a communicator from his belt. “Moff Raythe, fire when ready. Vario, Krest, attend me.” A massive explosion shook the cavern, causing rubble to fall from the ceiling. The guards collapsed back to either side of Vader, pushing Seeda back against the crystal. Saw and the rebels looked around in confusion.

“You’ll kill us all!” Gerrera shouted.

“It is you who will be buried here, Gerrera. You will never make it out in time. This cavern will be your tomb!”

“And yours! My sacrifice will be small to yield the death of the dark lord of the Sith!” He reached to his belt and armed a thermal detonator, hurling it at them with all his might.

“As the Temple Masters used to say, all is as the Force wills it. Guards, touch the crystal!” They reached back and placed their hands on the smooth surface. Vader retracted his saber and grabbed Seeda’s arm with an iron grip. When he placed his other hand between the two guards’, a brilliant flash of light erupted as the detonator exploded at the same moment he touched the shimmering green crystal. The world suddenly became brilliant white light and total silence.

When Darth Vader awoke, the red tint of his helmet lenses was gone. He could see and feel brilliant white light all around him. It was warm and inviting. He rose, catching a shocking glimpse of his hands; his pink, fleshy hands. Gone were the mechanical digits he had grown accustom to. They quickly went to his face, and did not feel the cold, hard edges of his fearsome helmet, but of more flesh. His face was uncovered. A brief moment of panic set over him as he took in a deep, unassisted breath with his own lungs, not the iron machines that breathed for him. His clothing was layered black and brown robes. His hands ran up to the top of his head and felt hair.

“What sorcery is this? Am I dead?”

His voice, for the first time in many years, was his own rather than the modulated growling of his helmet.

“Hello?” He yelled. “Is anyone here? Lieutenant Seeda? Captain Vario? Krest?”

No response.

In every direction around him was a wash of opalescent white with no horizon. He was not floating, but he also could not make out what he stood on. He scanned as far as he could see for a point of reference, but could find none. Whatever he was treading on felt solid, so he walked. After a few dozen steps, a feeling washed over him. The Force was pulling at him from multiple directions but he could not detect its meaning. It was very strong here, unlike anything he’d ever felt. He tried to reach through it and sort out the source, to search for others, but none could be found.

credit: Luscafilm

“I must be dead.”

No, Chosen One, you are not dead. The same voice from the cavern rolled through his head. You are safe within the Vault of the Whills.

He looked around but could not find where the voice was coming from. He sat cross-legged and closed his eyes, focusing on the voice.

“Reveal yourself. Why do you hide?”

We do not hide from you, Chosen One. We are here if you would only see us.

“Enough games! Show yourself!”

He opened his eyes and before him was an even brighter orb of light, shimmering and turning. “What manner of creature are you?”

We are not creatures. We are the watchers of all who are strong with the Force in the universe, both light and dark, and those between. My cousins and I have been waiting for you, Chosen One. The shimmering ball expanded into a humanoid female form in a black robe, wearing a broad white mask showing a blank expression. Her two-toed feet hovered above the surface.

credit: Luscafilm

“Is it you who spoke to me in the tunnels? What do you want of me? Why do I appear in this form?”

So many questions. In this realm, all appear in their true form before the Force. Here, you appear as the Jedi Knight and General Anakin Skywalker.

“Anakin Skywalker is dead. I am Darth Vader.”

A lie you perpetuate to yourself. The beast is you, and you are the beast. Try as you might, you cannot escape the destiny set before you, Chosen One. To fulfill your destiny, you must know yourself—your true self. That is why you appear in this form. Your true self is Anakin Skywalker.

“You speak in lies and riddles.” He reached down to his waist, but the familiar hilt of his lightsaber was gone. “Why am I here?”

The Watcher’s form glowed brighter, then split into another visage, though the mask of this one appeared angry. She moved down within inches of his face and yelled.

Cousin, this one would strike us down for speaking the truth to him! He is not worthy to possess what he desires! Expel him immediately!

“You do not know what I desire, fiend!” He yelled back. “Tell me who you are and why I am here!”

I am Serenity, and this is my dear cousin, Anger. We appear to you because we are the emotional instruments you live by. You are driven by your anger, but you seek the serenity of love and family. Search your feelings. You know this to be true. You seek the serenity of a life with the one called Padme Amidala. You seek to restore her from her place in the cosmic force.

Vader was stunned. This being had reached into his innermost recesses of suppressed thought and extracted what he wanted most; to leave the Empire and the Emperor behind and live out his days in peace with Padme at his side. How could she know this much? He stood up to plead his case.

“If you know these things then you must know how I can bring her back! You must tell me! How can I bring her back?!?”

Anger moved up into his face again. Foolish boy! She is now one with the Cosmic Force. She cannot return! The one known as Sidious has fooled you. He, too, visited us with the one known as Plagueis asking the same questions. Life. Death. Immortality. The Cosmic Force is all-powerful! Seeking to control it is folly!

In his heart, Vader knew she was right. He could feel anger rising inside him. He didn’t know if he was furious with the visage of Anger for saying these things, or with himself for being fooled. Within those same hidden recesses of his mind, he’s known all along Padme could never be returned to him. A single tear rolled down to his trembling lip. The anger welling inside him was about to boil over.

“Tell me how I can bring her back!”

He reached up, extending his hand at Anger and feeling for her air way. He would choke the answer from behind her treacherous mask. He felt within her neck piece, searching for her throat, but found… nothing. Suddenly, her robe collapsed to the ground and her mask tumbled down within it, coming to rest in a neat pile and leaving behind her violently flashing orb. Anger let out a maniacal laugh and shot toward him, smashing into his chest, knocking him down and stealing the air from his lungs.

credit: Luscafilm

Foolish boy! You have been deceived! Bringing her back is a fool’s errand! The orb of Anger disappeared. Serenity still hovered before him as he regained his footing, coughing and choking to recover his breath. He then fell to his knees, seeing no other avenue than to beg for her mercy.

“Please, I beg of you, please return her to me. Please!”

It is not within our power to interfere with the destiny of others. As is my purpose for being, I am compelled to help those within the Living Force that seek it find serenity, and alas, you are the Chosen One. You are destined to bring balance to the Living Force. I will help you, but be warned, Anakin Skywalker. What you seek—the possessions of the one known as Darth Plagueis—carry a great darkness with them. A darkness that, if uncontrolled, will create a wound in the Force not easily healed. Your actions will have a ripple effect that cannot be stopped. The ancient one known as Nihilus sought this ability, and nearly succeeded, though the results were disastrous. These artifacts became interred in this vault for a reason. Once removed, their darkness will consume you. Do you accept this great and terrible responsibility?

Darth Nihilus

“Yes! Yes, anything… just please show me how to bring her back.” He collapsed in sobs of anguish. The realization of all the evils he had done washed over him in an instant. Killing his fellow Jedi, the Younglings, all the incalculable deaths across the galaxy credited to him came crashing down on his shoulders. “Please… I’ll do anything…”

Very well. And in another brilliant flash of light, the visage of Serenity was gone.

Darth Vader awoke in the main hall behind the altar of the Temple of the Kyber with his face pushed into the ground. His right eye could see clearly the dirt and rubble of the temple floor. In his left eye returned the familiar red hue of his lenses with a diagnostic readout running. Then the labored, mechanized breathing apparatus heaved him to life. Pushing himself up from the floor, he could see his hands were once again machine parts and tattered black gloves. Around him was a nearly shredded black cloak, covered in burns and rips.

He looked to his left to see stirring both Captain Krest and Vario. Their uniforms were also in tatters as they regained their composure. Seeing Vader’s condition, they rushed to his side to defend while he recovered, but they were both injured as well. Behind them, lying face-down, was Lieutenant Seeda. Vader reached to him through the Force and felt a heartbeat, but he also sensed something else. Walking over, he used the Force to roll over Seeda and beneath him was a small wooden box. In the top was a gold inlay of a Borzûm. He pulled the box to him through the air and opened it. Finally, he held in his hands what he long desired. Finally, there was a chance to save Padme.

A chance for him to once again experience… serenity.

Seeda awoke, groggy and injured as well. He barely got to his feet when his communicator started blaring that a shuttle was en route for Lord Vader. He looked over to the opening where they entered the tunnels. It was filled with rubble and rock. He had no idea how they got out of there before it collapsed. Vader sensed Seeda’s confusion.

“Do not ask questions there are no answers to. Saw Gerrera is dead and we have the Emperor’s prize. You have done well, Captain Seeda,” Vader said through a cracked and damaged face shield. Seeda tried not to stare, but Vader’s right eye was exposed. He could clearly see the red and orange striations of his iris surrounded by the scarred and pale gray skin of his face. He looked down to see the Borzûm box in Vader’s hands. With all that was running through his mind, it was difficult to focus on the fact he just received a battlefield promotion from Darth Vader, himself.

The injured Vader and his party emerged at the top of the Temple steps where the remaining Lancers that were not buried in the tunnels secured a wide area where a shuttle was now landing. “You will return to the Dauntless by ground transport. See to your injuries, then send your mission report directly to my shuttle. These artifacts are precious to the Emperor. I leave at once for Coruscant with our spoils. He commands, and I must obey.”

In a flourish of ragged black robes, Lord Vader turned and limped up as the ramp hissed closed behind him.

Seeda looked on as the shuttle climbed through the atmosphere and disappeared behind the clouds, watching until it was well beyond his sight.

“When I get back, I must remember to tell Commander Junus about this. He’ll be upset he missed attempt number eighty-nine.”

Next time in Star Wars: Lifeboat!

Darth Plageuis. (Image credit unknown)

Captured! The crew aboard the Emperor’s shuttle finds themselves in the clutches of the bounty hunter Gekko. They’ll have to bargain for their freedom if they are to proceed with their mission to find the missing journal of Darth Plagueis and the kidnapped son of Captain Inda Krest!

Go back and check out Lifeboat from the beginning with Part I here!

To learn more about Star Wars, visit the official website at www.starwars.com. May the Fourth, and the Force, be with you!

Disclaimer

The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part IV

Lifeboat - cover art

Previously, in Star Wars: Lifeboat…

In Lifeboat: Part III’s flashback, then-Lieutenant Varon Seeda delivers a message to Darth Vader on Mustafar that begins a chain reaction of treason! They board a shuttle bound for Jedha to recover artifacts important to the Emperor, but will Vader discover the truth of them first and claim them for himself?

Get caught up on the Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction series!

Read Lifeboat, Part I here. Read Lifeboat, Part II here. And read Lifeboat, Part III here.

Now, in Part IV, we rejoin the surviving Imperials aboard the Emperor’s shuttle as they hurtle towards a destiny they cannot fathom, held at the deadly knife point of Captain Inda Krest! What secret is she keeping from them? Meanwhile, Lieutenant Meera Dyre is discovering she has hidden abilities she does not understand, but someone else aboard knows exactly what is happening to her. And the injured Captain Vario awakes with a shocking accusation…

Aboard Emperor Palpatine’s Shuttle, Great Gran Run Hyperspace Lane, Tashtor Sector – 4 ABY…

Meera always imagined the Emperor traveling in more spacious accommodations instead of this. It was bigger than a standard Lambda-Class with a small state room behind the cockpit and a lower-level cargo hold. Still, twelve people aboard made it stuffy. She excused herself to check on the injured guard, but she really sought to escape the others. The cargo hold was the quietest place on the small shuttle. The only person who came down here besides her was the Maintenance Technician, that she learned is named Tana Vel.

She struggled with her lack of concern over the gruesome murder of Sim Aloo. Whatever else he may have been, he was still an Imperial citizen. Meera took an oath to save Imperial lives when she became a Medical Assistant First Class, yet she watched one be gutted before her eyes and felt nothing as he bled out on the floor. Why? She sat on top of a cold steel crate between the lifeless body of Sim Aloo and the injured Royal Guard’s med capsule pondering her lack of compunction, when she heard footsteps coming down the metal ladder.

“The pilot’s last update said we’re about three parsecs from Volusia,” came the voice of Technician Vel. “Krest wants everyone upstairs for a briefing. She’s ready to tell us what we’re going there for.”

“Tana, how do you feel about Counselor Aloo’s death?” Meera asked as she looked over the covered body of the wiry, sallow-eyed Imperial accused of treason by Krest. “Doesn’t it bother you?”

“No, not really,” came Vel’s flippant reply. “I mean, it wasn’t comfortable to watch, but if he was a traitor, he deserved it. Is that why you keep coming down here? Does his death upset you?”

“No, and that’s the problem. I should feel something given my training, but I don’t. I was glad to see him die. If he truly did what Krest says—If Aloo was responsible for causing all this—he should have been left to burn on the Death Star.”

“Look, Meera, we’re all numb and hurting. Even Krest, though she doesn’t show it. And then you tell us Lord Vader is a traitor. The whole thing is difficult to wrap your mind around. Once we get back to the core, we’ll have time to decompress. The Empire will take care of us. They always provide.”

“The… Empire… is run… by fools.”

The unexpected voice from the injured guard startled them both. Vel jumped and let out an audible squeak. Meera rushed to the side of the med capsule and pushed a flurry of buttons.

“Try not to move if you can help it,” she told him. “Your wounds are stable but if you move too much, they’ll tear open again. You’re going to need surgery.” Then, turning to Vel, “Go get Krest. She’ll want to know he’s awake.”

No! There is no… time. You… must listen… to me,” he sputtered in a weak and dying voice. He reached up and grabbed Meera’s arm, pulling her closer to him. He was surprisingly strong for someone with his injuries. “Krest… is…,” he struggled and gasped. “She will… kill…” He trailed off as the sedatives kicked in. He wasn’t unconscious, but the painkillers took hold. His iron grip released her arm, yet Meera stayed close in case he said anything else.

There was a warning in his voice.

Suddenly, Meera could sense his breathing. Not hear it or see it, but feel it. She squinted her eyes to wish it away, but the sound in her head persisted as if she had her head closed in the engine compartment. Then she could sense the thrum of his heartbeat pounding in her ears. Then something happened she could never have prepared herself for. A vision entered her mind. It was so clear she felt as if she were there seeing it with her own eyes. She could clearly see the wounded guard, though not in his menacing red uniform. He wore flowing brown robes, neatly pressed into layers across his chest. He stood next to Krest. She looked different, but it was definitely her. Her hair was long and dark, and her eyes… they were the brightest blue.

And then she saw what they had. Shocked, she saw…

“Dyre, wake up!” Meera was roused back awake from Vel shaking her. She was still crouched over the med capsule with her hand on his forehead. She stumbled back into the crate she sat on in a daze. “Lieutenant Dyre? Are you alright?” Vel knelt over her with a worried expression. ” Can you hear me? Dyre, can you hear me?” She grasped Vel’s arm to steady herself from the fog clouding her mind and got to her feet.

“I’m fine, Vel… I’m fine.” The room spun as she tried to make sense of what she saw. “Vel, did you hear that?” she asked.

“Hear what?”

“How could you not hear that?” Meera asked incredulously. “It was so loud. Is it here? Where did they hide it?”

“You’re not making sense, Dyre. Hide what? What was so loud?”

“The baby! You didn’t…” Her sentence ended abruptly when she looked up and saw Captain Krest scowling at them from the top of the cargo ramp.

“Lieutenant Dyre, not another word. I will speak with you in private. Report to the cockpit stateroom at once.” She turned in a flourish of red robes and disappeared through the door. Vel waited until the door shut completely behind Krest before asking the obvious question.

“What is happening here?”

“I don’t know, but I intend to find out.” Meera climbed the ladder to the ramp. She turned back at the top and looked down at the anxious maintenance technician. “Vel, something isn’t right here. If I end up like Aloo, tell the others what you saw.” She climbed the rest of the way and went into the main compartment.

Continued on page 2…

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part III

Part III: Fortress Vader, The Gahenn Plains on Mustafar
1 BBY (5 years earlier…)

The shuttle’s rear ramp lowered, sending a blast of intense heat up into the cargo hold. Lieutenant Varon Seeda had never visited a molten planet before. The powerful odor of burning sulfur assaulted his senses, stinging his eyes and nostrils. His gray Imperial uniform felt uncomfortable, itchy and sticking to his skin.

He walked out into the heat to gain his bearing. In the distance, spires of volcanic rock jutted skyward across the landscape. Magma erupted in fountains of orange sporadically across the rocky terrain. Below the landing platform, a massive river of lava flowed from the base of the towering black spike known as Fortress Vader; the personal stronghold of the Emperor’s right hand and chief enforcer, Darth Vader.

His journey to Mustafar was shrouded in secrecy. These types of clandestine assignments were not suited for academics like him. Seeda was a research historian from the basement of the Imperial Reclamation Services, and though he was a trained Imperial Infantry officer, he was no soldier. He was too smart for that, preferring to fight using his mind rather than a blaster. Life at the Reclamation Service was usually quiet. At least it was until certain discoveries were made. Since then, his simple compulsory military career was overturned.

Learn ancient languages, Seeda. You’re so smart,” he mocked to himself. “Bollocks. I should have gone on to Lothal with the 7th Fleet. Anywhere but here.

The most dangerous condition he’s faced in a five-year military career was a Mynock attaching itself to the power cable in his apartment building on Coruscant. Now, he was crossing the molten surface of Mustafar seeking audience with the most terrifying soldier in the Empire.

In his left hand he carried a black reinforced-steel case attached to his wrist by cuff and locked in some way he could not discern. Instructions from his commander on Coruscant demanded Seeda to protect it with his life. Deliver the package to Lord Vader directly and no other. From that moment forward, two of the Emperor’s personal guard were assigned to him and they have not left his side since.

He debarked and advanced to the reception vestibule at the bottom of the landing pad. His pace quickened toward the door, hoping to shorten his exposure to the unbearable high temperature. Hoping Lord Vader would see the value in his intellectual services rather than a simple courier, he steeled himself and pushed the intercom button at the personnel door.

“Seeda, Lieutenant Varon. Serial TTN-37388. Reporting as ordered to Lord Vader’s command.”

No response. He tried again with the same result. He walked backward a few feet to look over the doorway for a security monitor but saw none. “Perhaps no one is home,” he mumbled. Pulling in a deep breath of super-heated air, he bellowed out towards the seemingly empty tower.
HELLLOOOOO?

Nothing. No activity to be seen anywhere. His voice echoed off the empty canyon walls. The only reply was the hiss of gurgling lava below. He approached the door again, leaning closer to the intercom and pushed the button again, speaking loudly.

“This is Lieutenant Seeda, TTN-37-“

Suddenly, the heavy blast doors slid open, revealing the scarred armor of a Trooper captain by his rank plaque, flanked by two Magma Troopers. Seeda saluted smartly and came to attention before him.

Vader's trooper commander, Captain Junus

“Lieutenant Varon Seeda of the Imperial Reclamation Service reporting under royal order of the Emperor. I carry a message for Lord Vader, and am newly assigned to his service.” He pulled a holodisk containing his orders from his tunic pocket and extended it to the captain, who did not seem at all interested.

Captain Junus, the garrison commander of Fortress Vader, made it his business to know all the comings and goings involving Darth Vader and those who served him. This Lieutenant Seeda was not among them. He looked down at the disk, yet did not take it. He stood for a moment, gripping his rifle tightly while sizing up the scrawny officer. Finally, his eyes came to rest on the secure message case.

“Neither I nor Lord Vader received notice of your impending arrival, or any such orders,” came the electronic voice from behind Junus’s helmet.

“My lord is not accepting visitors at the moment. However, I will deliver your message. You may wait here at his pleasure.” Junus extended his hand to take the locked case, not the holodisk. Seeda recoiled.

“I beg your pardon sir, but my orders are to deliver the message only to Lord Vader personally,” he said, slipping the case back behind him. Sweat began running down his brow and his hands began to shake. “I am ordered to protect it with my life, placing it in his hands only. With respect, I must see him immediately.”

The Magma Troopers both brought their DLT-19 heavy rifles to bear. Captain Junus withdrew his hand, folding his arms behind his back. His face was hidden, but no doubt his expression changed from irritation to anger.

“I’ve no time for games, Lieutenant. You arrive unannounced, claim to be sent by the Emperor himself, and carry a shielded case which you will not surrender for inspection. Do you have any idea how many assassination attempts there have been on Lord Vader while I have served him?”

“No sir, I don—”

“Eighty-seven,” came his sharp rebuke.

“Eighty-seven times, enemies of the Empire have sent their worst. Capital ships, X-Wing fighters, thermal detonators, assassins, saboteurs, bounty hunters, spies, droids and one particularly nasty Rathtar hidden inside a Bantha carcass. Eighty-seven times we have thwarted them all.” The tone of his voice increased angrily with each item he listed. “Just because you drop out of hyperspace aboard an Imperial shuttle does not make you any less of a threat. How am I assured you are not here for attempt number eighty-eight? Why would Lord Vader, the right hand of the Emperor himself, not be notified about a messenger of such importance?

By what authority would you ever think I would allow you access without passing through proper security protocol?” The Troopers took an aggressive step forward. That was a mistake.

Behind him, the nose ramp lowered again. Down marched two crimson-clad Royal Guards in quick lockstep, brandishing their signature force-pikes. They swiftly crossed the landing pad and took position on either side of the lieutenant, menacingly dropping their pikes into attack position. The Magma Troopers and Junus took a slight step backward. Seeda, taking this opportunity to feel more important than he had ever been, bowed up to his full height and pushed his chest out.

Captains Vario and Krest
Vario and Krest intervene

“These are Captains Vario and Krest of the Emperor’s Royal Guard. I suppose my authority derives through them. Now Captain, if you please, or if you don’t please, I care not either way. Take me to see Lord Vader. Now.”

The throng moved to a holding room just inside the entrance. The room was black metal from floor to ceiling, the standard Imperial build. Captain Junus stood at at the conference table across from the Lieutenant and motioned for him to sit. He was still flanked by his Magma Troopers, while Seeda sat between the two towering red sentinels. The message box was set on the table between them, still attached to Seeda’s arm by chain. Junus held his hand down on the intercom panel.

“My Lord, if you’re there, please forgive my interruption. A shuttle has arrived from Coruscant with a messenger claiming to be here on behalf of the Emperor. He states he will only give the message to you, personally. I await your orders.”

A tense silence descended between them. Seeda tapped his fingers on the table with a smug grin. He was not usually disrespectful to superiors, yet he was enjoying this role reversal. Junus pushed the intercom button again.

“My Lord… your orders, sir. Shall I hold them?”

Darth Vader meditating

Near the top of the fortress, the shuttle’s arrival did not escape the notice of Darth Vader, even while meditating in his chambers. He detected the force-sensitive royal guards as soon as the ship entered orbit over Mustafar. As he donned the final piece of his helmet, the intercom buzzed a final time.

Lord Vader, this is Captain Junus. Forgive my interruption. A shuttle has arrived with a message for you. The messenger claims to be sent from the Emperor, himself. Shall I hold them?

Still no answer. Seeda continued drumming his fingertips on the cold table surface, knowing full well the sound irritated the Troopers. After several minutes of silence, he stood and took up the case as if to leave. “Does Lord Vader treat all royal messengers with such contempt?” asked Seeda, feeling even more confident now than he did on the platform outside. Suddenly, his throat felt tight, as if the collar of his uniform jacket was shrinking.

“I treat all unannounced visitors with such contempt, and you are no different, Lieutenant. I find your lack of humility… insulting,” came the terrifying mechanized voice of Darth Vader from the doorway behind.

He held his clenched fist before him, stretched out toward where Lieutenant Seeda was now gasping for air and clutching his throat. Vader swept into the room, black cape flowing behind him, and advanced toward Seeda with a purposeful step. Junus and the Magma Troopers quickly snapped up to attention, startled by the Sith lord’s stealthy arrival. Only the Royal Guards remained unphased by his presence. Finally, Vader opened his fist, allowing the air to once again fill Seeda’s collapsing lungs.

“M…my..my lord, for.. forgive my insolence,” he said, clearing his throat and pulling at his collar. “It is an honor to…” Seeda started, and was abruptly cut off.

“You may dispense with the pleasantries, Lieutenant. What is your message?” Vader demanded.

His mask was within inches of Seeda’s face. He could see his own terrified reflection in the black pools of Vader’s gaze. He nervously glanced over at Junus, and then back to Vader. “Lord Vader, my orders were quite clear. This message is for you alone. By order of the Emperor.”

Keeping his masked gaze on Lieutenant Seeda, he waved his black-gloved hand dismissively. “Thank you, Captain. You and your men are relieved.” Junus didn’t like the order, but he knew better than to protest. He filed out with his troopers through the same door Vader entered, closing it behind him.

“Now,” Vader started. “Your message. Quickly.”

“Ye..yes, mi’lord.” Seeda stuttered out. He pulled a small key from his pocket, unclasping the box from his wrist and placing it before him on the table. “The Emperor has ordered me to give you this and instructs you are to open it only aboard the shuttle once we have left orbit. Though I am not privy to the contents, I have been ordered to accompany you and to assist however I can once we arrive at our destination.”

“And what is our destination?” Vader asked.

“Again, my lord, I am not given such information. I am told only to serve you to and to encourage our immediate departure. The shuttle pilot has the destination pre-programmed, and even now awaits your arrival. She has the coordinates for your review once we’re away.”

Vader stood in silence a moment. He glanced to the royal guards and back to the message case on the table. It bore the official seal of the Emperor, signifying it was truly a top-secret communication which would require his own validation code to see its contents. He reached out with the Force. Though the scrawny lieutenant appeared confident, he could sense the fear coursing through him.

Seeda was telling the truth.

He then bent his feelings toward the message box, looking for traps. Though he could not discern the message content, he sensed a non-descript MK-V Sienar holoprojector inside. Nothing else. Strange of his master to send such a simple device in place of their usual formal communications. He also knew the Emperor to be cautious with highly sensitive matters. In recent days, the rebels found ways to decipher the Empire’s encryption codes. Until a new mechanism for secrecy was instituted, no coded transmissions were safe from interception. After a few moments of contemplation, he glowered over the lieutenant.

“Make preparations. We leave within the hour.” And with that, he swept out of the room leaving Seeda still rubbing at his throat.

Once Lord Vader boarded, the SFS-204 ion engines roared to life, and they were quickly in orbit above Mustafar. He stood at the threshold of the flight deck observing the crew’s actions. In his right hand was the force-locked case containing his master’s coded message. His left rested at his belt, just above his lightsaber. Seeing that all was in order, he descended the ramp into the cargo hold.

At the far end, the two crimson-clad sentinels of the Emperor’s guard stood motionless except for the gentle sway of the ship’s movement out of the upper atmosphere. For his master to part with two of his precious guards, this mission must be important indeed. However, he disdained the overabundance of caution.

The mighty Sith Lord, Darth Vader, had no need of bodyguards.

Once orbit had been achieved, Vader retired to a private state room aboard the shuttle to view his master’s message. He laid the case before him and outstretched his hand. He sensed the locking mechanism, using the force as his key to manipulate the durasteel bolt holding it shut. Every electrical impulse in the room touched his senses. He reached out with his mind and lowered the lights to a dim glow. After a moment, the latch flipped, and the lid slowly revealed the contents. The small holo-projector disk floated across and into the cradle at the center of the table, where a miniature visage of Emperor Palpatine erupted upward and began to speak.

The Emperor's Message

“Lord Vader, you will travel to the moon of Jedha and oversee harvesting of the remaining Kyber Crystals within the temple at Jedha City. The Death Star project is stalled and depends on your success. Commander Kyson has failed to quell the rebels there, led by the outlaw Saw Gerrera, and is grossly behind schedule. Remind him of the price of failure when you take command.”

The recording flickered briefly, scrambling the image of the Emperor for a moment, but his voice continued without pause.

“The rebel leader is a target of opportunity; however, he is not your objective. My agents within Jedha City have made a discovery. Two artifacts have been recovered within the Temple of the Kyber that are of great import to me, and to us; a holocron and a text. I am certain you feel the disturbance as acutely as I. It seems they have found something we have been searching for after all this time, my old friend. The Force trembles with anticipation of the greatness we are about to achieve. Only you can I trust to bring what they have found to me. Make haste. Secure the artifacts and see to the extraction of the remaining kyber crystals. Once the excavation is back on schedule, bring the tome and holocron to me on Coruscant.”

The tone of Palpatine’s voice then turned dour. Vader sensed the uneasiness in his master’s next words.

“A usurper has risen from the Unknown Regions. I have dispatched the 7th Fleet to eliminate him. I will not suffer another rebellion. He will be dealt with swiftly. Until he is crushed however, he could be a threat to us. Speak of this discovery to no one, not even your most trusted servants, until you are in possession of what has been found. Secrecy must ever be our ally.”

The recording paused a moment as the shuttle settled into its hyperspace lane, suspending the tiny blue image of his Emperor like a marionette puppet before him. The radiation shielding required during travel through hyperspace often played havoc with hologram signals; a necessary annoyance Vader had dealt with since his early days of hyperspace travel during the Clone Wars.

Vader crossed arms in contemplation. A usurper from the Unknown Regions?

If the Emperor has sent the vaunted 7th Fleet to dispatch him, he must be more than a passing annoyance to the Empire. Although he and Thrawn competed for Palpatine’s favor, Vader held his exceptionally skilled rival in high regard. This new threat would receive no mercy at the hands of the Emperor’s favored pet Chiss admiral. Who could present such a challenge that required this much firepower to quell? He noted to further investigate the matter when he arrived on Coruscant. After a moment, the hologram started again.

“You will find the academic skills of young Lieutenant Seeda useful for this mission. He is fluent in the ancient Sith languages spoken on Ziost and Korriban. Plagueis often scribed his notes in the old tongue to protect them from prying eyes. Keep Seeda alive. We will need him. I have foreseen it. I have also sent two promising acolytes to assist you. Captains Vario and Krest have proven capable warriors loyal to me. No doubt you have discerned they are force-sensitive. You will find that trait beneficial on this assignment, my apprentice. Use them as you see fit. Should they survive this mission, I shall consider them for my Sovereign Protector corps.

Until then, they are at your disposal. Do what must be done.”

The image fades and the holo-projector falls silent. Darth Vader can hardly believe it. For years, his master has promised they would tear the galaxy apart to find the writings of Darth Plagueis the Wise. The Emperor said his former master would tirelessly collect and record all of his research into immortality within a tome and holocron, both of which had been lost to time.

Could these truly be the lost works of Darth Plagueis? Have they at last been found?

Darth Plagieus

The looming threat from beyond the Outer Rim has divided the attention of the Emperor, this could be his opportunity to be free of his yoke forever …
… to be in control his own destiny …
… to rule the galaxy as he saw fit …
… and with Padme, at long last, again by his side.

He settled his resolve. The sooner these crystals were harvested, the sooner he could travel to Coruscant and learn the truth of this discovery. He would not be denied this time. The crackling voice of the shuttle pilot came over the intercom, punching through his daydream and interrupting his thoughts. “My Lord, we’ve entered hyperspace and will arrive at Jedha in four hours. Will you require regular updates?”, she asked.

“I do not, commander,” he replied in annoyance. “I do not wish to be disturbed until we enter orbit. Is that clear?”

“Ye… yes sir,” came a timid reply.

“And Commander, find Doctor Aphra. I may have need of her services.”

“Right away, Lord Vader.”

Next time, in Lifeboat, Part IV

Vario awakes! The mysterious injured guard shares his story. Plus, the twelve surviving Imperials aboard the shuttle learn where the final piece of Krest’s mysterious puzzle resides, and what they have to do to get it. Also, we learn just how deep Aloo’s treachery went, and Meera Dyre discovers she is more than just an Imperial Medical Officer!

The Aloo Family Luxury Yacht, Stargazer, in orbit over Volusia
The Aloo Family Luxury Yacht, Stargazer, in orbit over Volusia

Disclaimer

The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part II

Aboard Emperor Palpatine’s Shuttle, Lambda-Class T4-a Executive Model, Outer Rim, Moddell Sector, 4 ABY

Meera stared out of the narrow glass into the empty black void of space. Tears of sorrow flooded from her eyes. “Are we the last ones left alive?” she whispered to herself. “How could this have happened?”

In a flash, the black was replaced with brilliant blue streaks fading in the wake of the shuttle. She watched the tiny cosmic particles dance and flare between the stretches of ion trail from the shuttle’s engines. Even the mesmerizing blur of stars in a hyperspace jump could not erase what she just saw. The destructive energy burst of the Death Star mere moments ago was seared into her mind—never to be forgotten. Her head pounded; thoughts muddled with replays of the cataclysm she witnessed in the fiery halls of the battle station. And his face.

The face of the Jedi assassin would haunt her forever.

1535481904_noto-vaderluke

You’re in shock, she thought to herself. You survived it, Meera, just as Father used to tell you. It’s just shock. Be grateful for that.

Meera shuddered. She knew it was a lie, even if only to herself. Her malady wasn’t from simple shock. There was something more, unlike anything she had ever felt before. She couldn’t explain it. The cries of every dying soul in the battle rang in her head. She could feel tingles, like tiny pin pricks—one for each life that was snuffed out behind her. Meera closed her eyes tightly, trying to will away their screams. They remained, and she wept.

Between sobs, she glanced over to the med capsule and remembered the injured guard laying in it was only reason she stood in this cargo bay and was not burning to a cinder in the vacuum of space. The blinking beacon inset to the top indicated critical care was required. She wiped the tears from her face, careful not to press on the gash in her cheek, and punched up his triage report on her data pad. It didn’t look promising, but Meera was confident she could keep him alive until they reached a proper medical facility. She pulled back the pod’s glass shroud and gently cradled behind his neck to remove his menacing crimson helmet.

He was quite handsome; fair skinned with a muscular jaw and a salt-and-pepper goatee. His hair was black, shoulder-length with flecks of grey. He was not scarred, but his face had seen battle. Meera could tell after all the troopers she has treated in the war against the rebels. Even at rest, a warrior’s face told the stories of the horrors they have seen in war. He lay so calm and still she could easily mistake him for dead. She leaned down and looked closer into his face.

“Still breathing, I see. That’s good. At least I can save one comrade today.”

She reset the shroud and keyed the program to start a medically-induced coma. The bacta serum would handle the rest until they could get him to something better. She let out a heavy sigh. It would be many cycles before she could forget this day. A shot of pain traveled up her arm, causing her to grimace. Her own wounds were now demanding attention. The gash on her arm and on her cheek throbbed in waves, and her headache reached a full maelstrom behind her eyes. Damn, she thought. A concussion, too? The hits just keep on coming.

That was something else her father used to say. The hits just keep on coming. Meera smiled at the memory. She pulled a bacta injector from her sleeve pocket and jabbed it to her carotid artery. The life-giving liquid surged into her bloodstream when the injector pinged, bringing instant relief from the pain in her head, but not the screams. Those remained.

Wait, that wasn’t a scream—someone in the over-deck behind her was shouting.

The words were muffled through the bulkhead, but they were loud and definitely hostile. She turned to go investigate, only to find one of the red-armored Storm Troopers was right behind her blocking the way up. Startled, she jumped and shrieked.

“You’re lucky the Captain vouched for you,” came the electronic disembodied voice from inside his helmet. “Our orders were to shoot anyone who tried to board.”

Meera stared into the cold black eyes of his helmet, seeing only her reflection staring back. The salt of her tears burned in the wound on her cheek as she cried for the thousands of her Imperial brothers and sisters aboard the Death Star. All those lives… lost—and this one would have taken more on orders.

“You would have killed me just for trying to survive?” she asked through the tears and pain.

“Just following orders, ma’am,” he replied.

“Who ordered you to murder fellow Imperials?”

“Royal Adviser of the Emperor, Sim Aloo,” came the cold response. “He was very specific. Welcome aboard.” He turned and marched through the open cargo bay door. The steel blast panels swished closed behind him.

Something in his tone brought long- buried memories flooding back to the surface. Things she wanted to forget. Memories of her childhood, and of her father who worked for the Empire in the heavy weapons factories on Sullust.

Memories of a simpler time with him after her mother died; and memories of the Storm Troopers “just following orders” that killed him.

She stormed up the ramp and through the doors to investigate the shouting, hoping it would distract her from the painful reminisce. The door at the top slid open to reveal a luxurious cabin with a large black conference table in the center. Around it were two Imperial Majors—one young and handsome, and the other bulky with a strange-looking mustache. Another red-armored Storm Trooper without his helmet and a mechanical technician sat opposite each other close to the door.

At the far end, at a ramp Meera assumed led to the cockpit stood three more fully-armored Storm Troopers with blasters at the ready. Their armor was bright red, matching the color of the Royal Guard. She surmised they must be a special detachment for the Emperor. She had never seen them, nor their sleek red armor before. In all, including Meera and the two pilots she assumed were in the cockpit above, there were twelve souls aboard and one dying slowly in the med capsule below deck.

Another saying from her father crept into her mind: Thirteen. That’s an unlucky number.

The source of the argument stood at the far end of the table in front of the troopers. The female Royal Guard who brought her on board stood toe-to-toe with a tall, thin man with a bony face and wearing the finery of someone of importance in the Empire, or, at least, used to. He wagged his long, wiry finger in the face of her shroud and bellowed arrogance into her face behind it.

“—and command of this vessel is mine!” shouted the skeletal-looking man in flowing purple robes and a hat too large for his head. Meera noticed how it bobbled back and forth over his forehead as he shouted. His eyes were deep-sunk and blackened like a corpse.

“You bureaucrats disgust me,” she spat back, full of contempt. “You command nothing here, Aloo. Go back to your spice den.”

“You forget your place, Captain Krest! I am a Royal Imperial Adviser to the Emperor, himself! I will not tolera—”

Before he could finish the sentence, Krest drew a hidden vibroblade from her cloak and in one deft, lightning-fast stroke, held the razor-sharp edge to his neck, halting his words in his throat. Everyone froze, expecting a flick of her wrist to end his life at any second. The large hat Aloo wore tumbled to the floor as he jerked backward in surprise, terror filling his eyes.

“This is your one and only warning, you purple-clad buffoon…

…The Emperor is dead, and the Empire is no more. What you will not tolerate no longer concerns me, but what you will tolerate is my unquestioned command of this vessel and all aboard. Do not speak, but indicate that you understand me.” His head jiggled up and down in nervous agreement. “Good. I will not hesitate to end anyone who defies me.”

She reached up with her free hand and pulled her helmet off, tossing the red shroud to the floor with a hard thud of contempt. She had a short-cropped shock of bright red hair almost the same color as her uniform and penetrating golden eyes. A scar from a long-ago battle she won graced her forehead and cheek, almost in the same place Meera would now have one on hers.

She held the deadly blade steady at his throat; the slim steel shimmering with a bright silvered-blue edge. Krest looked around and addressed the throng in the room but never took the blade from his neck; the edge within a hair’s breadth of separating Aloo’s head from his body.

“The pretense of Imperial rule ceases now. The only orders that will be given concerning this vessel will be from me and no one else, regardless of whatever station they used to hold. Is that clear? Does anyone else wish to challenge me for command? I will accept your silence as compliance with my authority.”

The cabin was quiet as a crypt. Even the shuttle’s ion engines seemed to quiet down under her demands.

The two Majors stared blankly down at the table. The trooper and the technician looked at each other and he gave her a silent nod, as if to give approval of the new command situation and for her to go along. The helmeted troopers gave no indication of their feelings on the matter, and Aloo jiggled his head up and down in forced agreement. Krest lowered the vibroblade and hid it within her robes again.

“My blade thirsts. If she is unsheathed it again, blood will be required.” She rounded the table and took a seat at it’s head in a large, ornate chair—likely where the Emperor would sit while aboard. “You, medical officer. Join us.” She motioned Meera to the table’s only empty seat, leaving Aloo to stand against the wall where her vibroblade forced him to go. The disdain for this slight was written across his strangely-shaped face. Krest spoke up again, addressing the room.

“As I said before, the Emperor is dead. I saw him fall with my own eyes.”

“What happened? Weren’t you protecting him?” asked heavier Major with the strange mustache.

“Lord Vader brought the Jedi before him in the throne room. The Royal Guard was dismissed. It was not unusual for the Emperor to request privacy, especially in Lord Vader’s company. He orders, we obey.”

“So the Jedi killed him?” asked the technician with a twinge of apprehension.

“No,” replied Krest. “Lord Vader did.”

Lies!” Aloo shouted. A collective gasp went through the room. “Lord Vader is the right hand of the Emperor! He would never—”

“Silence, fool!” she snapped back. “It is the truth. Lord Vader has betrayed us all and brought this destruction upon us. He was in league with the Jedi.”

The room erupted again into shouting. She didn’t know how or why, but Meera could sense their fear, anger; their frustration and disbelief. For a moment, her eyes locked with Krest’s and Meera could see her thoughts. As the bickering continued around her, she tuned it out and focused on the piercing yellow eyes of Captain Krest. She was not telling them all she knew. It was difficult to discern, but something was still hidden. What was Krest up to?

Meera didn’t want to believe Lord Vader was a traitor. She tried to dismiss the notion, but something in the Captain’s eyes laid bare the truth.

Lord Vader truly had betrayed the Empire. He had betrayed them all.

“Stop… STOP!” Meera shouted. “ALL OF YOU! STOP!” Meera shouted. Everyone went silent and all eyes rested on her. “The Captain speaks the truth. I saw the Jedi bring Lord Vader into the hangar where I was rescued. He was injured and couldn’t walk. As the Jedi dragged him, he called out to me for help but I could not hear him. He removed Lord Vader’s helmet and took him away in a cargo shuttle. Lord Vader is dead, too. I saw it all, and I can’t believe it either, but… it’s true. Lord Vader has betrayed us all.”

“You would accept the word of this girl over mine?” Aloo said to the room with a gesture of frustration. Again, everyone looked down at the table as if it were suddenly the most interesting thing in the room. His protest was met with silence. A wicked smile curved across Krest’s face. She nodded in approval to Meera and faced Aloo. Her smirk angered him, but he acquiesced.

“Very well, Captain. If Lord Vader betrayed us and the Emperor is truly dead, we must now think to ourselves and our safety. The rebels will be emboldened to pursue us after such a victory. No doubt they detected our escape. This shuttle is equipped with the most advanced cloaking technology ever developed. I suggest we use it and maintain radio silence. Set course for Coruscant and the safety of the senate. They will protect us now.”

Meera couldn’t believe a member of the Emperor’s highest council could be so craven. “There are still Imperials dying out there. Our brothers and sisters need us, and you want to run away like some coward?”

Captain Krest sneered. “Oh Lieutenant, you couldn’t begin to comprehend the depth of his cowardice—”

“How dare you!?” Aloo shouted in disgust.

Krest leaned forward on the table, placing her palms down. “I dare a lot of things, Counselor. Such as I dare to inform this crew of you falling out of favor with the Emperor. Or how about that he stripped you of your title and station just before Lord Vader arrived with the Jedi? Even better, how about I tell them that the Emperor ordered your arrest for crimes against the Empire?”

“Preposterous allegations! Vicious lies!”

sim aloo
Treason! Royal Counselor Sim Aloo listens to the charges against him.

“Major Andalor,” she called out. “What was your job under the Empire?”

The younger Major, who had been silent through the whole ordeal sat forward; his eyes darting from face to face around the table. A cut to his forehead was accompanied by a bruise around his eye and cheek. Though he militarily out-ranked Krest, he obliged her with a timid answer.

“I… I was the second-in-command of the Emperor’s Archival and Antiquities Corps under Colonel Varon Seeda.”

“Major, tell us how you came to be on board this shuttle instead of going to your escape pod?”

He swallowed hard. “I was about my business, cataloging a rare artifact recovered from the Endor moon before the rebels attacked. I was packing it for safe keeping when I was stopped by Counselor Aloo. He… he told me the Emperor planned to leave immediately after his conference with Lord Vader and wanted to inspect the device we found personally. Counselor Aloo insisted I accompany him to wait aboard the shuttle for further instruction from the Emperor.”

Krest chided him while Aloo scowled. “Go on, Major. Finish your story.”

“I told him this order was most irregular, as I never travel with the Emperor… at least, not aboard his shuttle. I was with the advance intelligence team. We had our own transportation and always arrived ahead of him. This shuttle is only meant of the Emperor and his personal attendants. Not the likes of me.”

“And your face, Major. How did you get your injuries?”

Aloo interrupted. “What are you playing at, Krest? This is not some Senate trial!” The Captain leapt from her chair and shoved Aloo back against the wall again holding her forearm over his throat, pinning him there.

“Do not speak again, Counselor, or I will gut you where you stand! Major, …please continue,” she said through gritted teeth as she slowly restricted Aloo’s airway with her elbow.

“I told him no; that I would need to verify the order and finish my duties with the artifact. Then a Royal Guard attacked me… on his order.” Krest never took her eyes from Aloo. His were widening with anger or terror; Meera could not tell which.

“Major, the Royal Guard are loyal only to the Emperor. Yet you say Aloo had one following his command?” Krest asked.

“I couldn’t believe it either,” Andalor said, feeling a little more emboldened that Krest has Aloo by the throat. He stood and walked closer to them. Aloo’s eyes grew wide. “But there he was. The guard held me by my throat while Counselor Aloo attempted to take the artifact from the case I locked it in. It has a bio-lock on it only two people could open: the Emperor… and me. The guard knocked me out. When I came to, I was in the cargo hold below. I woke in time to see Aloo pull a blaster and shoot the guard multiple times. He got away, but was hurt. Well, I guess he didn’t get away from the explosion in the end.”

“This is preposterous! I never shot anyone,” Aloo shouted toward the Major. “I saved your life!”

“I warned you,” was all she said.

The vibroblade flashed a brilliant blue streak from beneath her tunic. It was so fast; Aloo never stood a chance. Krest stabbed him just below his belt and ripped upward to his neck. The last thing he saw was her golden eyes in focused contempt for his existence. He fell to the floor in a gushing pool of blood. Krest stood over him; her right arm from the elbow down drenched in a darker crimson than her uniform.

“Why did you do that?” shouted the mustached Major.

“There were multiple reasons, dear Major Deshkin, but primarily because he did not follow my instruction not to speak. Major Andalor?”

“Ma’am?” the timid Major replied.

“Is the artifact this Bantha fodder wanted from you still secure?” she asked, never taking her eyes from Aloo’s corpse.

“Yes, it’s here.” Andalor put a small durasteel box onto the table. The flashing red pad on top beckoned for a fingerprint to open it.

“Indulge our curious passengers, Major. Open it for us, if you please.” Krest wiped her blade off on the chunky purple hat Aloo wore and tossed it aside his gutted body on the floor. Major Andalor pressed his index finger to the pad and the light flashed from red to green. The latch popped, and the mechanical lid opened slowly. Nestled into a soft lining was a metal pyramid covered in archaic markings. A pulsing red glow showed through the edges of its metal casing.

“What is that?” asked the Maintenance Technician. “I’ve seen a lot of mechanical devices in my time, but nothing like that.”

holocron

“No, I should think not,” snarked Krest. “It is far older than you or I. To answer your question, however, it is a key. All we need are the instructions how to use it.”

“A key to what?” asked Major Deshkin. He picked it up from the case and held it aloft in both hands.

“You’ll find out soon enough. Sergeant Marillion,” Krest said to the Trooper at the table. “Tell the pilot to change our course for the Core. We’re going to Velusia. The next puzzle piece awaits us there.”

They were now down to twelve souls aboard. Her dad would have liked that number better. Meera looked down at Aloo’s corpse and could not help thinking to herself her luck may be changing after all.

Part III coming soon!

In part III, we’ll go back 5 years and meet then-Lieutenant Varon Seeda as he travels to Fortress Vader on Mustafar with a secret message that will send Darth Vader down a treasonous path. Stay tuned!

fortress vader

Disclaimer

The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part I

The Death Star II in orbit over the forest moon of Endor, Outer Rim, Moddell sector – 4ABY

When the first explosion tore through the superstructure, the light panels above dislodged and collapsed down in a deadly pile of mangled steel over the surgical bay. A panel swung down with a hard smack to the side of her head, throwing Meera down like a rag doll across the cold, hard floor. A stinging gash opened across her cheek. She could feel the warm blood pooling on her face. The sharp blow made her world spin in lopsided circles. She fought the urge to pass out. Losing consciousness now would mean certain death. Meera had to get up. She had to move.

The operating room had collapsed around her in a tangle of twisted metal and sparking wires. Her patient, an injured Scout Trooper just brought up from the surface, lay crushed under a fallen structural beam. She grabbed his wrist looking for a pulse, but no doubt he was dead. Doctor Zed’orda was in mid-incision to close a torn artery when the ceiling fell in on them. No surgery could save him now. A blaring klaxon from overhead screamed at her through the carnage. Her ears rang in cadence with the piercing alarm blasts while a calming female voice reminded her she was about to die.

Warning… Abandon ship. Proceed orderly to your assigned escape pod. Warning… Abandon ship…

She spun around in a fog, knowing she was in danger but too dazed to react to it. She called out for the doctor but did not see him anywhere. Their medical droid lay in shattered pieces across the floor; its automated torso sparking and twitching in electronic agony as servo fluid poured out into the rubble. A loud metallic scrape drew her to look at the panel that hit her hanging by a thread, swaying above her with a broken rhythm. Behind it, across the room, she saw movement. A durasteel pipe lay across Zed’orda’s upper body, pinning him to the floor and stealing the air from his lungs. The injured doctor strained against its bulk but the conduit would not move. He yelled at her in a strained and airless rasp. She could see his mouth moving but could not hear his words.

“Meera, go! I can’t… get… out. You have to… you have to… go! Get… to… your pod!” She began pulling pieces aside in a staggered frenzy to get to him. Small shards of broken metal and glass chewed at her fingers as she clawed her way through the burning wreckage. All the while, the same calm voice from overhead reminded her of their deteriorating situation.

Warning… Abandon ship. Proceed orderly to your assigned escape pod. Warning… Abandon ship…

The next explosion shook the structure so hard, the station began to list. The artificial gravity was failing and soon they would lose orbital stability. The station was falling apart around them. All she could see was more rubble while smoke and dust filled her lungs. Sheared steel and electronic detritus collapsed in the med bay in a new shower of sparks and fire. The doctor was underneath most of the carnage. Through the dust, she could make out his gloved hand sticking out of the debris. It hung bloody and lifeless.

She could feel it. He was dead, too.

A purpose suddenly flooded through her. The second Death Star was collapsing around Lieutenant Meera Dyre of the 804th Imperial Medical Brigade, and if she didn’t find a way out, she would die where she stood. A large med-pack lay at her feet in the rubble. She pulled out a Bacta syringe and jammed it into her neck. The throbbing in her head immediately subsided enough to focus. She grabbed up the med-pack and slung the strap on her shoulder and scanned the room for a way out. She climbed over a busted control panel, through the med bay window, and into the hallway. Meanwhile, the friendly overhead voice continually reminded her of impending doom between deafening alarm blasts.

Warning… Abandon ship. Proceed orderly to your assigned escape pod. Warning… Abandon ship…

The smoke was thick. Meera struggled to get her bearings in the hallway and was startled by the sudden appearance of a Storm Trooper barreling down on her. He emerged from the smoke and showers of sparks like an armored ghost, wearing battle-worn white plastoid streaked with blood. In the middle of his chest armor was a perfect hand print, pressed in the red of some other poor soul’s demise. He ran towards her in a panic.

“Move! MOVE!” came the digitized and muffled voice from behind his helmet. “You can’t go that way! There’s nothing left back there. Follow me… this way!” He grabbed her arm, spinning her in the opposite direction. Pain shot through it like a bolt of lightning.

Aaaagh!”, she cried out and looked down to see her bloody uniform shirt sleeve. The trooper had grabbed a gash on her arm that she hadn’t even noticed, nor did she feel the pain of until he grabbed her. She recoiled from him. “My escape pod is back the way you came. What’s happening out there?”

He didn’t answer. The Trooper looked back at her for a moment, then continued to run on without her. She lost sight of him after a few steps into the thickening smoke. The gash on her arm seared with pain.

Warning… Abandon ship. Proceed orderly…

“Can’t worry about that now, Meera,” she said to herself. She tightened up the strap of the med-pack and continued in the same direction the Storm Trooper had run.

Her mind raced to figure out what was happening. Reports of a rebel fleet emerging from hyperspace to attack them came over the comms, but Doctor Zed’orda just laughed. “They wouldn’t dare attack us here. Our defenses would annihilate them in an instant. Someone is having a joke.” Obviously, he was wrong and was now dead because of it. Perhaps the rebels have already boarded the station and were sabotaging it with explosives. She picked up an abandoned E-11 from a dead Storm Trooper in the hall, just in case. Injured or not, she would not go down without a fight. At the next T-junction, she could just make out directional signage through the smoke. To the left was the mess hall and barracks. To the right were the armory and hanger bay 272. A hangar bay! Surely there would be pods there or even a ship. She turned to the right and ran.

The wide hall was littered with metal and debris from the destruction happening around her. Sparks flew from the overhead conduit and electrical panels in the walls. Fires burned up through the floor. The burned and broken bodies of fallen Imperials were strewn about everywhere. She stopped to check vitals on the ones she could get to, hoping to save someone, or at least find someone alive, but it was useless. All life signs were negative. The explosion that collapsed the med bay must have been worse in this section, taking out anyone caught in the hallway with it.

Abandon ship. Proceed to your assigned escape pod

“I’m going to find the communication officer that recorded that message and strangle her,” Meera muttered as two more successive explosions ripped through the hallway. One came from back at the junction she just passed through and the other ahead in the direction she was going. The blast knocked her into the wall and sprawling on the floor, taking her breath away. Her lungs burned as her body struggled to find air. Staggered and gasping from the impact, she willed her battered body upright and continued ahead.

The explosions subsided for a while as she moved toward the hangar. The air hung heavy with smoke, clouding anything more than a few feet in front of her. She took quick but measured steps to avoid injuring herself any further. Another blast like the last one would likely be her end. After what seemed an eternity, she finally saw the faint blue glow of a directional kiosk that would tell her how much further to the hangar, or if she was even still going the right way. Her pace quickened, and as soon as she got up some speed, her foot caught on something heavy. She sprawled across the floor yet again. Her arm burned like fire where she fell on top of it. Looking back, she saw what she tripped on.

She recognized the bloody hand print on his chest. The Storm Trooper she met in the hall earlier lay in a heap under some rubble. That last blast must have gotten him. His arm protruded out at an awkward angle where she caught her foot. She crawled over to him and pulled his helmet off, hoping he would still be alive. His blank and lifeless eyes stared straight up into nothingness. She checked his pulse at his neck and found none. The trooper was gone. Though scarred, his face looked so young; too young to die like this. She ran her hand over his eyes, closing them for the final time. “We didn’t deserve this, did we?” she asked the dead man. “What is galactic peace and security really worth if this is the thanks we get for it?” The overhead klaxon rudely answered, reminding her she was still in danger.

Warning… Abandon ship. Proceed to your assigned escape pod…Warning…

“You were too late this time, Meera,” she said aloud to herself. “Now get up before the same thing happens to you. Move!”

On her feet again, she went more carefully forward this time until she could make out the shape of the large blast doors at the end of the hall. Above it was a sign reading Hangar Bay 272. She broke into a run, slamming into the door release panel. The blast doors hesitated, then slowly crawled open. Meera could hear more explosions back the way she came. A cloud of black smoke came rolling down the hall towards the door, blotting out the light behind. She went to the narrow opening of the doors, forcing her way through the slit and into the hangar bay. Black smoke and heat erupted through behind her like a Krayt Dragon was chasing her down. What she now saw was worse.

Fire and chaos reigned. The huge room was swarming with panicked Imperials running in every direction trying to escape. Some officers tried to maintain order and organize scurrying troops, but it was no use. The sound of the battle raged outside the shielded bay opening. Ships of all sizes and types were taking off. At least I’m not the only one left, she thought. Then she saw it. A TIE Fighter sat at the back of the hangar, still attached to a refueling tank in a mechanic’s bay. No one was around or seemed to notice it. That’s my ticket out of here, she thought.

Warning… Abandon ship...

She didn’t know how to fly it, but if she was going to survive, it was the only option. She ran toward it as fast as she could, only to see movement in the cockpit. Damn the luck… someone was already in it! The ion engines fired and the machine lurched forward, snapping off the fuel line. Roaring flame shot from the hose where the fuel ignited, spewing fire across the bay like the Krayt Dragon had found her again. The TIE shot forward and roared out of the hangar at high speed. She stood in shock and anger, watching it soar off just as an rebel X-Wing fighter crossed its path from above, firing all four cannons at once and destroying it instantly.

She looked around again. There had to be something else. Near the front by where the TIE flew out was a small shuttle. It was over a hundred yards from where she stood. Flaming debris rained down above it, but the ship appeared intact. Even if it was damaged, anything was better than nothing. She ran toward it as another explosion shot debris through the air in front of her, the searing heat pushing her back.

She lay there a moment, trying to recover her wits when the hangar door across from her slid open. A man ran in with his eye on the same shuttle, but he was not Imperial. His uniform was all black yet had no insignia. A prisoner, maybe? The holding cells were one deck below the hangar. If the security locks failed, the scoundrels imprisoned there would be looking for a way out, too. Suddenly, he looked right at her and saw she eyeing the shuttle as well. She could not make out his face, but it didn’t matter who he was. Whoever got up the cargo ramp first was getting that shuttle, and he was closer to it than her. It was now or never.

Meera got to her feet and sprinted across the floor like a scalded Dewback. The race was on.

He sprinted to the shuttle, too, and opened the hatch. The ramp lowered down and Meera ran harder to her maximum speed. Then he did something completely unexpected. He went back to the hangar door and started dragging a wounded soldier through it towards the ramp. He was struggling with the bulk. This was her chance! If she could get there before him, her escape was guaranteed. If not, she could barter medical assistance for the wounded man as her ticket, but, either way, she was getting on that shuttle. She was gaining ground and surmised they would now get to the ramp at the same time. Whoever he was, it seemed they would be sharing the ride after all. Suddenly, Meera skidded to a stop and her feet slipped out from under her on the polished bay floor, sending her sliding onto her backside. Her eyes widened as terror took over when she recognized him.

It was the Jedi prisoner, Skywalker! She also recognized the wounded man he was struggling with. It was Lord Vader!

The prospect of being cut down by the Jedi was more terrifying than the Death Star exploding around her. He beckoned to her and began to say something, but Meera couldn’t hear him. She was already up and running the other direction to get away. If this Jedi could defeat Lord Vader, she would make easy prey; even with her Imperial combat training. Ducking into a nearby stack of cargo containers, she hid and watched.

vaderdies

The Jedi dragged him to the ramp and stopped. They were speaking, but she could not hear what was said through the deafening sound of firing turbo lasers. The chaotic scene she had walked into suddenly became calm. Vader was seriously injured; that was easy enough to tell, but somehow, she could also feel it. She could feel the burning sensation of electricity coursing through him. She could sense his mechanical parts trying desperately to keep him alive, injecting bacta and interfacing with his nervous system. The Jedi took off his helmet.

Vader was in great pain; more than any human could endure. Yet there he lay, as calm and serene as one could be. She sensed a peace wash over him; a finality. No, not finality—relief. His spirit was ebbing and he was not fighting it. His final fate was welcomed. He was speaking to the Jedi. She could not hear the words, but she knew what he said all the same.

“You were right about me. Tell your sister…you were right.” She did not know what he meant by that, but she felt his last breath ease out as he lay in the arms of the murderous Jedi. Meera crossed paths only once with Lord Vader in her short time on the Death Star, and he was nothing like the vicious rumors whispered in the trooper ranks. Darth Vader was her commander. He cared about the Empire. He cared for his soldiers. Her division marched side-by-side with his vaunted 501st Legion. Vader’s Fist, they were called. She patched up many of those brave troopers on his peace-keeping missions against this evil rebellion. The Empire must know who struck down their beloved leader, so he could be brought to justice. Someone must report what happened here. For Lord Vader’s sake, Meera had to survive. A tear rolled down her soot-covered cheek in reverence for the Sith Lord. Like so many other Imperials this day, Darth Vader was dead.

Skywalker dragged Vader’s limp body up the ramp and closed it for take off. Why was he taking the body? Probably some fiendish bounty or personal glory, the Jedi bastard! Then, with a blast of ion fusion, the engines launched the shuttle out into space. They were gone.

Suddenly, another explosion shot fire across the hangar. The Death Star was failing.

If she was to report anything to anyone, she had to get off this dying battle station. She looked around again to see no ships remained. Her only hope now was to find a pod. Across the far side of the hanger, a white arrow streaked across the floor etched with the words ‘emergency exit.’ Meera could not see where it led through all the smoke, but at this point, it made no difference.

Hoping to find something that could fly; anything at all, she just ran. She leaped over burning crates and supply canisters as she moved across the fire-streaked landscape of Hangar 272. Finally, she could see the outer wall. The escape pods—if any were left—would be here. With the loading chute to her right and the cold vacuum of space on her left, she turned to run toward the chute when she heard a woman’s voice call out behind her.

“You! Medical officer! Come quickly… I need you!”

royalguard

She turned and was shocked to see the bright red uniform of the Emperor’s Elite Royal Guard. Meera had only ever seen them from a distance, and never heard one speak. Across her shoulders was the arm of another helmeted Royal Guard, head hanging and slouched. He was unconscious and wounded.

“Take me to the nearest medical capsule, now!” she ordered. Meera ran to assist by going under the injured guard’s other arm. She pointed toward the back wall.

“This way. All hangars have a crash locker in case of accidents, though that won’t matter if we don’t get to an escape pod now!” Meera struggled under the weight of the much larger guard. She could not see a wound, but her tunic was smeared with blood where she held him up. He was bleeding profusely from somewhere.

“We don’t need an escape pod. Focus, girl—get me to that med locker!”

Together they dragged the wounded guard to the back wall where Meera punched in her identification code on a flashing panel. The door hissed open, and she snatched a green control pad from the wall. The repulsor lift underneath the medical capsule sparked to life and hovered to her side. She grabbed another med-pack from the wall and headed back out. They lowered him inside and she jabbed two vials of bacta into his shoulder. The triage program hummed to life, and the report came back dismal. Meera shook her head. “He’s bleeding bad. I can stabilize him for now, but like I said, it won’t matter unless we can all get out of here!”

“Do your job, medic,” the woman said, “and there will be a place for you on our shuttle. Save him, or perish. The choice is yours.”

Her hands shook as she punched in more codes. The female guard stood silently over the med capsule watching her every move. The explosions in the hangar subsided for the moment, but the station was breaking apart. Shudders vibrated through every strut and pillar. Suddenly, a feeling swept over Meera that she could not ignore.

“His wounds are serious. He’s going to need surgery, but we don’t have that kind of time. Something tells me the station only has minutes left…”

“I sense it as well. The rebels have reached the station’s power core. The central cooling towers are ruptured.” Meera was taken back a moment by her matter-of-fact tone and lack of questions about her feeling. “Quickly, this way.”

The guard took off double-time toward the far wall, where a blast door clearly marked No Admittance stood closed. She manipulated the keypad, placing her hand over the bio-scanner and opening the door. There, in the center of this hidden hangar, stood the massive folded wings and tail fin of an executive-model Lambda Class 4-a shuttle. They both ran to it, with the hovering med capsule matching pace alongside. The isolated hangar was serene, as if the fury of the battle going outside passed it by.

The guard yelled, sensing what Meera was thinking. “This hangar is ray shielded, but that won’t last when the Death Star destabilizes.” At that moment, the shuttle’s engines started up in preparation for take-off.

“Oh no… no…NO,” Meera said aloud. “Not again. They’re leaving us!”

“They can’t leave without the Emperor’s code cylinder, and I have it.”

“Wait, this is the Emperor’s shuttle?!?”

“He won’t be needing it any longer. The Emperor is dead. Now shut up and move faster!”

Meera’s step stuttered, but she kept going. The news sent her mind reeling with shock. The Emperor is dead? Impossible—the Emperor is the Empire! How could this happen? Without him, everything would fail! The galaxy would fall to chaos! How could the rebels have succeeded in killing him? Was he not well-protected? Suddenly, a realization struck her.

The Jedi. He must be responsible for this.

Meera felt grateful simply to be alive after her encounter with him. He is powerful, indeed if he bested Lord Vader and the Emperor. Skywalker would be the most wanted man in the history of the galaxy when the Senate found out about this assassination. No star system could hide him from the wrath of the Empire. Then another realization came. These guards must have fought him and failed, too. That meant the wounds she would be treating were from a lightsaber. The guard would be lucky to survive the trauma, as the two most powerful beings in the Empire did not.

“The Jedi didn’t kill the Emperor. Lord Vader did. Now stop thinking and run!” the guard commanded. How did she know what Meera was thinking?

They reached the bottom of the shuttle ramp, where two red-armored Storm Troopers stood guard. The Royal Guard ran between them. When Meera touched the ramp, the troopers leveled their blasters directly at her head. She froze mid-step and the med capsule mimicked her movement, coming to a halt.

“She’s with me. Let her board,” the guard called back down to the troopers. “She tends to Captain Vario.”

“No one boards without a dignitary code cylinder or permission from the Emperor, himself,” the trooper snapped back.

“The Emperor is dead, fools! We will be too if this shuttle doesn’t take off. Let her board—now!

As if timed with her warning, a massive explosion rocked the hangar. The ray shield began to falter, and the hangar shook violently. With some trepidation, the troopers relented and pulled back their E-11’s, allowing Meera to pass. They followed her up the ramp, closing it behind them as another explosion shook the ship. Smoke poured in as the ramp raised up and sealed for take off. The engines engaged and the shuttle launched in a streak of light from the collapsing hangar bay. Meera ran back to the cargo door and looked through the narrow viewing glass just in time to see the beginning of the end of the Galactic Empire.

meera's eyes

Mushroomed clouds of fire erupted out of every visible surface on the doomed battle station. Then, in a brilliant burst of light, the moon-sized planet killer detonated into a fireball that rivaled a type-2 supernova. After all she had been through, Meera would survive after all. However, the Death Star—and the Empire with it—were no more.

Lifeboat: Part II coming soon! Stay tuned to find out what happens next!

Disclaimer

The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.