My head pounded and for a moment I wasn’t sure where I was, moving was painful but the need to know where I had ended up overruled than the maddening headache. Slowly the scene unfolded and I found myself on the planet I had been born on somewhere, it seemed, out in the Dune Sea. The desert stretched out wide before me. The sand had turned a warm reddish-gold colour in waning suns’ light, shadows and light exaggerating the ripples created by the waves of the wind as far as the eye could see, sloping up and down into crested dunes looking like a sea of honey coloured water. The twin suns hung low in the sky and the heat haze shimmering off the still burning sands made the horizon look watery and ethereal but I shivered in spite of the warmth in the air. I felt the tell-tale breeze that whispered a storm was coming and frowned, something wasn’t quite right because the air smelled like cold pepper not like warm pasha spice.
“You always pick the most difficult path to follow.” Said the soft voiced man my Uncle had named Qui-Gon Jinn.
I turned around to face him. Gone was the old farmer’s poncho I was used to seeing him in instead he was clothed in full Jedi robes and his long brown hair, only partially tied back, flowed around his lined face catching the fading light of the suns.
“Why do you come to me?” I asked him.
“I knew your mother very well; she was one of the gentlest beings I have ever met.” He replied.
“Gentle?” I asked crossly. “She, like every other Jedi, went to war. They fought; they killed and in turn were killed by those they were trying to protect.”
The sorrow which passed across his face made my heart ache, made me sorry for my unkind words. “War changed the Jedi Order in ways we could have never imagined.” He replied. “Your mother was special and I cared for her very much. You are her legacy Merlyn Gabriel. I would not see you fall to the darkness which both hunts and haunts you.”
I sighed. Sometimes I felt as though my ghosts were at war over my soul tugging it from one side to the other and back again. “You haven’t answered my question.” I said.
“I come to you because I owed your mother a debt, because when she needed me to listen to her the most I did not. She knew she would have a child, she knew that for a long time before you were born. I have tried to be a guide to where she could not.” He said.
He nodded, “She had a vision, she told me this but it was right before I left with my Padewan to go to Naboo. I told her we would speak of it when I returned.”
“You died on Naboo.” I pointed out. I remembered a dream I had once of this very thing but it seemed very far away, a half remembered memory.
“Yes, I was arrogant and the young Sith Zabraki I fought was faster, stronger than I was.” He said. “I failed in many respects not the least of which was the training of Anakin.”
“You blame yourself for his failure?”
“He did not fail us,” Qui-Gon said, “We failed him. It was the arrogance of the Jedi Council coupled with their fear of his powers which drove him away, drove him to seek guidance from someone who seemed to care for him. He turned to Palpatine and Palpatine used the boy’s need for love, need for acceptance to create Darth Vader. It was Palpatine who showed Anakin what we could not, trust and affection. By the time the boy realised what had happened it was already too late. The Jedi Order let Anakin Skywalker down in every way possible, so yes, we failed him,” He sighed and looked away from me, “I failed him.” He added softly.
“Dying isn’t exactly failing.” I pointed out.
“It was the ultimate failure caused by my own arrogance but I found a way to bridge the gap between worlds, a way to come back and communicate to the living. Where I failed him, I could help you.” He said, “You have a hard journey before you, child.”
I laughed. “I stopped being a child a long time ago; even Navaari no longer calls me that. And as far as difficult journeys, when has that not been the case?”
He smiled slightly and shrugged one shoulder. “Yet you choose to walk this path. You could have done things very differently but that is not your way.” He chided. “You choose to face your destiny but you fight it also and that is what makes it so difficult.”
I made face. He was, after all, right.
“It will be a terrible, difficult road you now have chosen to walk but use the force; it is stronger with you than you believe.” He reached out to place a hand on my shoulder.
“I am not a Jedi and I don’t ever want to be!” I snapped, tired of all this Force business, shrugging away from his touch.
He chuckled, “Indeed you are not and had you been taken in by the Order you would have been a storm in the calm.” He said. For a moment he said nothing and I thought that he was finished but then he continued with a voice laced with sadness. “You do not ever have to be a Jedi, young Merlyn, that particular path was never yours to choose and now that way is closed to you but that should not stop you from sensing and using the living force around you, let it be your guide. Do not let fear and anger cloud your judgement, look past the lies and the desire for revenge. You have already seen what lies at the end of such a path and it is not a place such a spirit as yours should be.”
I frowned. “That sounds like a lot of Jedi mumbo jumbo to me.” I told him.
He laughed and it was beautiful sound, rich and warm, “Perhaps the words are but the sentiment behind them is not. You will find your way, you are strong and smart. Your mother would have been proud of the woman you have become.” He smiled. “I am proud of you. You are ready to face the hard way ahead of you and the terrible trials yet to come.”
“Terrible trails?” I asked not liking the sound of the words. “Have I not gone through enough already as it is?”
“Through hardship we learn strength.” He replied cryptically.
I sighed. “Then at least tell me what to expect?”
“You already know; you have been shown many times. You have been given the tools to survive and you have the strength to persevere.”
“That’s not terribly helpful.” I told him.
“No perhaps it is not.” He replied, reaching out to lift my chin with the tips of two fingers. “But it is not my job to make the way clear to you, it is my job to be a guide, I cannot fight this battle for you child, I can only offer you wisdom and guidance.”
The world around me shifted and the air thickened with the sudden moisture of a terrible storm. I realised I was no longer on Tatooine but somewhere on Coruscant or perhaps Nar Shadda. Suddenly a huge thunder clap tore the air around me and the ground shook violently.
“You should wake up now, child and be ready.” Qui-Gon said just as a second, even louder thunderclap tore through the air and this time the shaking was so bad I lost balance and fell, waking up in the process.
I opened my eyes slowly; my head hurt and everything swam in a blurry haze. For a second I thought I was in the cockpit of the shuttle I had flown from Nirauan to try and find Thrawn after the fall of the Emperor. My heart skipped a beat and a moment of panic swept through me but as my vision and my thoughts began to clear I realised I was not sitting in the cockpit of a lambda shuttle but was actually lying on a bunk in a small cabin on what sounded a lot like a YU class ship. I reached up to touch the base of my skull and felt the spot where Jyrki had hit me. There was a large, painful lump but the skin had not broken. He had known exactly how hard to hit me to knock me out but not cause any serious harm. I got up from the small bunk slowly, wincing at the pounding at the base of my skull which seemed to get worse a second after I moved.
Time paused as I sat and looked around. The cabin was designed for a single person, probably the Captain but Jyrki had never used it. It was utilitarian, sparsely furnished and the only belongings in it were mine. I pulled my satchel and searched through it not surprised to see my lightsaber missing but everything else was there and for that I was grateful. I sighed as I took out an analgesic patch from the tiny first-aid pack I had brought along and slapped it on the back of my neck then I pulled out the bottle of water and drank, thinking of my father and then Navaari as I did so.
I replayed the last few moments in the Grish’min Inn’s hidden room, the sound of Dek’s neck breaking as Navaari killed him, the blaster bolt hitting Navaari square in the chest, my father lying, half dead from the abuse at Jyrki’s hand, on the dirty floor and then the smash of pain from the blaster hitting me on the back of the head. I bit back the tears which threatened to come. My impulsiveness had cost Navaari his life. I didn’t know how the hell I would ever begin to tell Thrawn this and I didn’t think he would ever forgive me for it either.
Despair wrenched through me. What had happened, what I had caused to happen, was so awful that I couldn’t bear to think about it. I couldn’t believe that Navaari was dead but I had seen him shot, I had seen him fall and I had not seen his chest move with his breathing before Jyrki had rendered me unconscious, but no one survived a blaster bolt to the chest. I swallowed back my tears which made my throat ache. Crying would not do me any good now and it certainly wouldn’t do my pounding head any good either. What was done was done and I couldn’t turn back to the chrono to fix it, I could only hope to somehow end this fight once and for all.
After a few moments, when the pain in my head began to subside, I took stock of my situation. I tried the door but it was locked with a security code I couldn’t crack and there was no other way out. I sat back down on the bunk and listened to the sounds of the hyperdrive. The ship had a slight shimmy and the hyperdrive sounded old but healthy enough. Jyrki may have been a complete nut job but he was a hell of a mechanic and I was quiet certain that, in spite of her age, this ship’s engines were solid which is why, when a few moments later there was an almighty bang and I was thrown violently to one side, I was more than a little shocked. I was even more surprised when the lights went out plunging me into total darkness and the ships engines went completely dead. Panic swept through me but I squashed it down quickly, while I could afford to lose it on the ground, in space, panicking meant the difference between living and dying and I had been trained better than that. I took a few deep breaths and waited, a few seconds later the dim red emergency light flicked on giving me enough light to see by and the dull throb of the sublight engine kicked in. I sat still, trying to figure out what had just happened. For sure we had come violently out of hyperspace but it hadn’t been so bad that the ship had blown up. I listened carefully to the sounds the ship was making. The sublight engine was slow and struggling, Jyrki had push started it and the engine had not liked that very much.
I tried the comm panel by the door but it was dead, the main electrics on the ship seemed to be out. I tried the lock on the cabin door again but nothing happened and the small indicator light stayed red. Frustrated and angry I began to pound on it yelling for Jyrki to let me out. It was one thing to be locked in while the ship was running properly but quite another to be locked in when something went wrong. When my fists hurt from banging on the door, I kicked at it with my foot, shouting at the top of my lungs. I was pretty sure he would be in the engine room and wouldn’t actually be able to hear me so I was surprised when the security light suddenly went from red to green and the locked snicked open.
I opened the door manually and took one step out of the tiny cabin. The corridor was pitch black not even the emergency lights were on which was really unusual. I couldn’t see anything beyond the dim radius of the red lamp from my own cabin nor could I sense anyone in the corridor. I wasn’t sure what sort of YU ship we were on so I didn’t know her lay out well enough to just walk around in the dark blind. I turned around to get my satchel which still held my small hand torch when someone silently clapped a hand across my mouth and pushed me back into the cabin. The door behind me shut softly and before I could struggle the person who had silenced me released me. I spun around ready to fight but stopped mid motion when I saw who stood before me. For a second I wavered unsure if who I was seeing was real or a ghost.
“Zte’sa?” My voice sounded small, child like to me ears. My uncle nodded making the gesture for silence and gathered me into his arms, holding me tightly.
“Are you okay?” He whispered in my ear.
I nodded, too stunned to speak. When I found my voice all I could think to say was, “How? He told me you were dead, he told me he had killed you.”
“I wanted him to think this was the case, we can discuss the details of ‘how’ later. Suffice to say he saw what I wished him to see and thought what I wanted him to think” He replied quietly. “The ship is a YU-four-ten model so you should be familiar enough with the layout and the comm-panel. Can you get to the cockpit and unlock the controls?”
I nodded. “I think so but what are you going to do?”
“Take care of Jyrki.”
“He’ll probably be in the engine room trying to fix the hyperdrive.”
“That was my intent.” My uncle said tersely.
“You sabotaged the engine?”
He nodded, “Unless he has a spare motivator, the main hyperdrive won’t be functioning any time soon. I disabled the back-up as well.” He said holding out his hand so that I could see the small engine part he had removed from the spare making it impossible for Jyrki to start the secondary hyperdrive. I made a face at him and he slipped the tiny part back into the satchel he wore slung across his body.
“Do you know where we are?”
“Somewhere in the Ando System, I believe.” He said. “Do you have a weapon?”
I shook my head and he pulled out a small, sheathed vibro blade and handed it to me. “As I recall you are a tad inexperienced with blasters.
I took the blade from his hand and slipped it into the waistband of my skirt at the small of my back under my coat. I retrieved my satchel and slung it across my shoulder. “He took papa.” I said quietly, “Navaari is dead, shot with a blaster.”
My uncle looked at me sharply. “Is Kit still alive?”
I nodded, “He was still living when Jyrki knocked me out, but …” I wavered, “he was in bad shape.”
“Kit is a strong man Lei’lei; he’s survived far worse than Jyrki Andando.” Uncle Vahlek said quietly but his voice was filled with sorrow. “You are sure the Bone Trader is dead?” He asked.
“I saw him get shot, a blaster bolt to the chest at point blank range, saw him fall but I didn’t see him breathe.” I felt tears well up in my eyes and brushed them away; we didn’t have time for crying.
“We can mourn later.” He said, the expression on his face was grim and angry, “Right now we have work to do.” He handed me a small personal comm unit. “Don’t use it unless you have to and then only click it don’t speak. When the ship is secure I’ll come to the cockpit, lock yourself in and unless you hear me give you four clicks do not open the door, do you understand?”
I nodded and he kissed the top of my head. “Be careful, Lei’lei I’m not sure he is alone and he may not be in the engine room anymore.”
I didn’t want to leave my uncle now that I found him alive and I held onto him tightly, burying my face in his coat, breathing in his scent deeply. “I thought you were dead. I thought everyone was dead.”
“You give up on us too quickly.” He peeled himself away from me and stroked my hair. “I’m not that easy to kill.” He said lifting my chin up so that I stared into his pale green eyes. “Look at me Lei’lei, I know you’re scared, tired, in pain and sad but I need you to get past these things right now because our survival depends on your courage and ability to bypass Jyrki’s security.” He sighed, “Everything will be fine, just remember all that you have been taught, you can do this. Now go and don’t worry about me.” Then he vanished into the darkness, moving without a sound.
I fished about my satchel for the small hand torch and turned it on, then headed towards the cockpit. My uncle had been right about the ship type, an old YU-Four-Ten, and it was in rough shape. If Jyrki had bought it then he had probably gotten it from a salvage yard, if it was stolen then chances were the previous owner was grateful to be able to claim insurance on it.
The YU-four-ten series were interesting ships in that for a light freighter they had a lot of cargo space, more than most ships of the same class, but the extra cargo space meant the ship was slower and less manoeuvrable that the YT series, which most smugglers preferred. This was a good hauling ship if speed wasn’t an issue and my father had flown one long before Jyrki had started to work for him, I knew the lay out of the YU-Four-Ten well so it didn’t take me long to get to the cockpit. I was grateful to discover that Jyrki had not locked the door and I slipped inside quietly, relieved to find it empty of nasty surprises.
I glanced around and saw that the comm station had power so my uncle must have found a way to disable the emergency lights on the main ship. Clever really, the dark gave him an edge. I closed the cockpit door and then locked it using the manual override. I sighed as I sat in the pilot’s seat and began to unravel Jyrki’s security to the system. He was every bit as clever and as tricky as I remembered and it would not be an easy job, lucky for me I had learned a few more things about slicing since my time training under him and he had not varied his techniques much. I managed to slice the main helm and nav controls faster than I expected which left a little nagging worry in my belly that I ignored for the time being. After that it didn’t take long to get back helm control and pull up the nav charts to see exactly where we were.
My uncle was right we had come out of hyperspace in the Ando system in the Dulfilvian Sector which was part of the Mid Rim. I traced the flight plan Jyrki had tabbed into the nav computer and frowned, it was convoluted and erratic designed to throw anyone following us off the trail. I wondered if anyone had been tailing us or if someone had managed to put a tracking device on the ship but the proximity reader showed clear space. Out of curiosity I pulled up the charts for the area, just to see if staying here was a good idea or not, until we could get the hyperdrive back online and make sure Jyrki was either dead or at least subdued, a job I was happy my uncle had taken on.
The Ando System had three planets, Ando, Ando Prime and Andando. I found it ironic that we had popped out of hyperspace near a planet with the same name as the man who was trying to destroy my life. I called up the charts for it and grimaced when I saw it was nothing more than a molten ball of rock with the closest orbit around the single star also called Ando. The planet Ando, which had the most temperate climate of the three orbiting bodies, was home to the Aqualish and as far as I knew they were sympathetic to the rebels. I had no desire to end up there especially since almost all the planet’s surface was covered in water, something that would make finding a decent landing zone next to impossible. The third planet, Ando Prime had the largest orbit and was mainly a glacial world.
There wasn’t much information on Ando Prime. The indigenous species, the Talid were quiet, nomadic hunters and little was known about them although they had been known to trade from time to time most off worlders steered clear of them. Ando was also home to some Aqualish and human settlers and the planet had seen a rise in population due to growing mining colonies but for the most part the thing Ando Prime was best known for was its pod races. At sublight speed, Ando Prime was our closest, best bet and I liked it because it was sparsely populated, had a climate I understood and vast open areas of emptiness where I could land the ship for repairs if it came to that but I hoped it wouldn’t.
As I sat waiting for my uncle to hurry up and join me I began to sift through the onboard controls looking for hidden traps which Jyrki might have laid in case he lost control of the ship. He had taught me to never take anything for granted and that if something felt too easy then chances are that was because it was too easy. I was in the middle of unravelling a complicated little trap which would shut the sublight engine down when my comm clicked four times making me jump in fright.
I let my uncle in and sat quickly back down, locking the door again. “So?” I asked as he strapped himself into the co-pilot’s chair.
“He went to ground. I didn’t want to waste time searching for him and risk leaving you alone up here. It will be better to let him come to us. Can you make sure he cannot access any major controls except from here?”
I nodded but I didn’t feel quite as sure as I looked. Jyrki was full of tricks and this was his ship. I sighed. “I can try and get us to Ando Prime, find a decent docking bay?”
“Yes. if you think you can nurse us that far.” He said, “I would prefer we got out of space and finished this fight on the ground.”
I nodded and revved up the sublight engine, listening to it complain as I did so. “I have no idea where he got this tub but we’ll be lucky if she holds out long enough for me to find a place to land.” I grumbled.
Ando Prime slowly grew larger and larger as we got closer and closer. It was a big ball of white surrounded by a thin haze of blueish atmosphere. I tried to scan the surface for a decent landing area but the scanning system was not being cooperative. I swore and my Uncle looked at me.
“Jyrki’s managed to lock out most of the secondary control systems and I am having a really hard time digging through his coding.” I growled.
My Uncle nodded. “He always was good at that sort of thing, though I thought he taught you all of his tricks?”
“I wish that were the case.” I sighed as I punched the consol in frustration.
My uncle shook his head. “That won’t help Lei’lei.”
I was about to reply when the proximity alarm started shrieking. “We’ve got company.”
I glanced at the screen and made a face. “Imperial, TIE fighters, four of them.” I tried to get the comm system to work. I had imperial codes that would get the TIEs off our back and maybe even allow us to land on what ever transport had brought them out here to patrol.
I flipped the shields on and nothing happened. I swore again and smacked the control panel with the heel of my hand twice. “For the love of the Almighty Sarlacc does nothing on this bucket of bolts work?” I yelled, hitting the panel a third time. Much to my surprise the shields came online.
“Can you signal them?”
I shook my head. “I have helm control and the nav computer but nothing else is working properly. The comm is dead, jammed by something either external or by something that Jyrki had done. Either way we can’t tell them we’re not the smugglers they seem to think we are. Bet this blasted ship was registered to someone in the rebellion or something dumb like that!”
The ship rocked as we were suddenly hit by blaster fire. I growled and pushed the sublight engine to max, winced as it whined like a dying dewback and hauled on the helm to try and dance away from the TIEs. “Can you see if you can….” I was about to ask my uncle to go and work one of the two working guns on board but suddenly we were shooting back at the TIEs. “Never mind, Jyrki beat you to it. Fine let him kill good Imperial pilots I don’t need that on my conscience anyway.”
More shots blasted at the shields and as I swung the ship to starboard. “Ktah!” I swore in Cheunh, “It’s like trying to steer a pregnant bantha! Better strap in Zte’sa, this is going to be a hell of a ride!”
“Head down to the planet, Lei’lei TIEs are less manoeuvrable in atmospheric flight. You might be able to dodge them in the North East mountain range.” My uncle said as he punched up Ando Prime’s nav charts.
“Hang on!” I pushed the helm down and we began the sharp nosedive towards Ando prime’s atmosphere. Another blast hit us aft and warning peeps loud enough to wake the dead screamed from the helm control. “Well, we just lost the hyperdrive, good thing it wasn’t working anyway.” I said with a grim smile.
“They’ll go for the back up next; probably think we’re trying to bounce off the atmosphere to get away from the planet’s gravity well.” Uncle Vahlek explained.
I kept swinging the ship in a side to side motion, making it almost seem to scoop the stars. The inertial dampers were not the best and the motion was making me queasy. I felt the shudder as Jyrki fired back at the TIEs following us and hoped that maybe he could convince them we were unimportant but that was not the case and just as we were about to head into the upper atmosphere of Ando prime they shot out the back up hyperdrive leaving me with sublight engines only and shields that were beginning to fail.
I switched extra power to the rear shields and got the ship ready for a hard entry into the planet’s atmosphere, hoping what was left in the forward shields was enough to take the re-entry heat. This was not a good way to land anything, especially not a ship that was half shot to pieces and already wobbly on power. We hit the atmosphere with a bang. The ship bucked, shuddered and fought the sudden resistance of gasses as it plunged inward on an angle of approach most pilots would never have dreamed of using.
“Pull up Lei’lei!” Uncle Vahlek yelled through gritted teeth. The gravitational forces of the planet were now in effect and I felt as though my teeth were going toe fly through the back of my head. “Pull up now!”
“Damn it you think you can fly better you’re welcome to take the helm!” I throttled back and slower than I would have liked the ship began to respond to me yanking on the yoke as hard as I could. All I could see was white from the clouds and they never seemed to end. “What’s on the radar? Anything in our way? I can’t see a thing!” I yelled, “I’m flying blind here!”
“Pull up more or we’ll smack straight into one of the mountains!”
I screamed at the ship as it sluggishly began to curve upwards instead of downwards. She moved like an over weight Hutt. “This ship is a piece of …!”
“Those TIEs are still on our tail!” My uncle interrupted and suddenly we broke through the thick cloud to stare into the ugliest, sharpest mountain range I had ever seen.
Another round of blaster bolts hit the shields making us buck and rock. I heard Jyrki return fire but there were still four blips of light on the radar. The shields dropped to seventy percent.
“Try to shake them in the mountains!” Uncle Vahlek suggested.
I glanced at him. “Are you nuts?” I asked. “What do you think I am, a bloody pod racer?”
“No but you can tap into the Force and use that. Anakin Skywalker used to do that and it enhanced his skills greatly. You have the same abilities, use them.”
“Don’t remind me!” I hissed through gritted teeth. I barrel rolled the ship and headed towards the closest and largest of the mountain ranges Ando Prime had to offer. The steep and jagged peaks looked ferocious and cold. Wind picked up the powdered snow from the tops of the mountains and swept it high into the air. Plumes of white, wispy snow danced around the mountain peaks like lace wedding veils flying in a breeze. It would have been a beautiful sight had it not been so deadly. As we swept downwards I could feel the strength of the howling winds that were sweeping around us, working against us. The only consolation I had was that it would make it tough for the TIEs following us as well. The ship wallowed and rolled as winds caught her under the belly and I struggled with the helm to keep us both straight and up right.
“Head through that passage!” Uncle Vahlek pointed to where he thought I should go. “North East from here there is a storm brewing, might give us some cover!”
I glanced at the radar and saw what he was talking about. “That’s not a storm that’s a bloody full out blizzard!” I said. I’d seen enough on Hjal to know the difference.
“Great cover.” He said, raising both eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes and headed in the direction he had suggested, sweeping lower towards the mountains until we had to negotiate between the peaks, looking for the valley channels to swing through that would be large enough for me to still out manoeuvre the TIEs. The winds picked up and every now and then a large gust would catch the ship from underneath, pushing her sideways hard. I wrestled with the controls to get her back on course but it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was fighting gravity, wind and trying not to smash into the side of the mountains we were flying past at break neck speeds. I swept through a smaller pass and flipped the ship sideways to fit through the narrow opening. One of the TIEs wasn’t fast enough and suddenly there were only three blips on the radar.
I felt Jyrki fire from the starboard turret and watched with sadness as he hit the TIE closest to us. The ship exploded in an impressive ball of fire but I didn’t rejoice in seeing it.
“Lei’lei!” My uncle yelled, “For Sarlacc’s sake watch what you are doing!”
I hauled on the yoke and managed to miss the sharp outcrop of rock by centimetres, rolling the ship sharply to starboard. Adrenaline coursed through my body and my heart hammered so hard in my chest that I thought it would explode. I took the ship upwards again and headed into the dirty looking weather front my uncle had pointed out. The ship bucked hard as she hit the front face on. Wind and snow came at us from all sides and suddenly I could see nothing but white. Now I had to fly by radar and I hated it. Another blast hit us and alarms started to scream on the comm.
“We’re going to lose the shields.” I said. “I can’t see a thing in this crap!”
My uncle didn’t comment and for the first time since this whole chase began I saw a glimmer of fear in his features. He glanced at me hiding away all traces of his worry and looked me straight in the eyes. “Use the force, child, it’s a gift not a curse and it might just save your life and mine.”
I looked at him and nodded. I took a deep breath and tried to get past the screaming comm alarms, the bucking ship, the terrible sense of doom and my own fear to tap into that one part of me that knew peace, to become the stillness. It was like being bathed in sunlight and for a second I let it engulf me. My Uncle’s voice, the alarms and even the presence of the remaining two TIE fighters rolled away leaving me calm, leaving me serine. I breathed it in and let it flow through me and suddenly I could see the path that the storm had hidden, as though the force was lighting it up like a landing bay.
The ship moved, for me, as though she were in slow motion. I could see what was about to happen before it occurred. I knew the location of the next curve, the next outcrop the next surprise and could dodge the obstacles accordingly but it was tiring to keep the concentration up all the while fighting with the ship for control. I sensed rather than saw the third TIE explode as it smashed at full speed into the out jutting cliff face we had just skimmed by. I knew a sort of sorrow then as I felt the life within the TIE’s cockpit vanish as though it had never existed. The momentary sadness was a distraction and my concentration slipped. The last TIE took advantage of my mistake and the twin ion blasts caught the sublight engine squarely. There were sparks and explosions and then everything went dead.
I swore and closed my eyes, reaching out for the threat of light that touching the force brought me. It was there but tenuous and I had never been trained for this. “Hold onto something, we’re going in hard!” I said through gritted teeth. If Uncle Vahlek replied I never heard him because I had sunk back into that strange nether world which using the force seemed to bring up. Keeping the ship straight and flat without the use of any engines was one thing but doing it through a blizzard was quite another.
We skimmed through the long narrow valley and I was greatly relieved to see it open up as the range of mountains we had danced through gave way to barren looking foothills and lower, flatter snow covered ground. The ship rocked and bounced like a badly behaving ronto but I kept her as straight as I could. If we flipped or landed in any position other than on her belly we were all dead.
We bounced as we hit the ground, like a flat stone on still water. The movement made me think of Thrawn skipping stones on the lake by the Imperial Retreat on Naboo and for a second I giggled. It wasn’t a good sort of sound and my uncle looked at me sharply while he gritted his teeth against the terrible forces and motion of the ship. I could hear the screaming of metal as it ripped apart and hoped that at least most of the ship would hold together. Crash webbing bit into my body as it held me tightly against my seat. Without it I would have been sent flying, without it death would be painful and probably messy.
Gravity was not being friendly and the ground was hard as well as unforgiving. We bounced again making snow spray in a wide wave as the bow of the space ship tore up the ice field we were crashing onto. Bits of the ship came apart and sparks showered us as more of then remaining electronics fried. It never seemed to end and all through it I never let go of the helm, in spite of the fact that now it no longer mattered what I did, the ship was dead and the only way we were going to stop was when gravity, snow and what ever else we hit prevented the ship from moving.
The end, when it came was hard and sudden as we smashed into the edge of a rocky outcropping. A piece of rock chipped off and flew at the cockpit screen smashing through it, flying between my seat and my Uncle’s to thud loudly against the cockpit door. Tempered transparasteel shards showered through the cockpit, stinging as they cut into skin. I flung my arms up to protect my face and my uncle did the same thing. The only thought that went through my head was ‘Blast, how the hell are we going to get off this damned rock now?’ because a smashed view-port meant the ship was completely wrecked. We sat for a few seconds in shock before realising we had stopped and had lived to tell the tale. I undid my crash webbing and struggled to get up, brushing shards of transparasteel off me as I did so. I had superficial cuts on my hands and my face which bled a little. The wounds stung as icy air blasted at them through the open cockpit.
“Are you alright?” I asked my uncle who was trying to do the same thing but the fastener of his crash webbing was jammed so he was stuck in the co-pilot’s chair. My breath laced the air in small white puffs. It was freezing outside and it would not be long before the ship inside was unbearably cold.
He nodded, watching with a frown as I drew the vibro blade from its hiding place in my belt and unsheathed it. “What are you doing Lei’lei?” he asked, struggling with his crash webbing.
I gave him a hard stare. “I’m going to go find that son of a bitch and I am going to finish this dance once and for all.” I said through gritted teeth. My uncle reached out to try and grab my arm but I pulled away from him, shaking my head as I did so. I was furious beyond belief and the only thing I could think of was how much I hated Jyrki. I saw worry, then fear flash in my uncle’s eyes but I no longer cared. I wasn’t scared of Jyrki anymore I wanted him dead, the look on my face told Uncle Vahlek everything he needed to know. For a single moment we stared at each other and then I left the cockpit ignoring my uncle as he shouted for me to wait.
Enough messing around! I thought bitterly. This ends now, one way or the other.