Chapter 32: Endor! - Part 1
Summary: An accident reveals an old deception, and Darth Vader must make a decision that will change not only his life.
Tydirium had successfully made the jump to hyperspace when a somewhat scruffy-looking Corellian poked his head into the cockpit. Jixton thought he would enjoy a bit of the forward view instead of staying in the crowded passenger cabin. Not that the cockpit was any less crowded, but he felt he should get a little closer to the princess and her Jedi brother now so it would look less suspicious than doing it once they reached Endor. Uncle Dee had made it quite clear that he wanted his kids back safe and sound. Jixton figured it would make the task much easier if he was able to stay close to Vader’s offspring without them getting jumpy or – Force forbid! – realizing their daddy had arranged for a bodyguard. Leia in particular was a feisty one, and he did not want to get on her bad side.
„Are we there yet?“ he quipped.
Leia shot him an exasperated look.
„I hardly thought you would risk joining us, Mr. Jixton“, she said in a flat tone.
„What? The cockpit such a dangerous place?“ Jix joked, deliberately misunderstanding her.
„Don’t play dumb with me!“ Leia snapped.
„Alright, alright. Uncle Dee volunteered me. Seemed to think the mission would stand a greater chance of success with my expertise. There, satisfied now, your Highness?“
Jixton’s scowl matched Leia’s, only his was pure mockery.
„If Lord Vader thinks we need a babysitter...“ Leia started. She was very nearly hissing with annoyance. By the Force, what was Vader thinking? She had done fine without an overbearing, tin-plated Ex-Sith playing on being daddy so far, thank you very much!
„Would you settle for a bodyguard, then?“ Jix’s eyes twinkled in amusement. Before Leia could respond, however, he continued: „Listen, I’m not going to cramp your style, no matter what Vader wants. I’ve got a fair idea about how competent you are. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be here now. Just cut your old man a bit of slack, alright? He’s new to this whole parenting thing, and he’s bound to make mistakes.“ The Corellian’s eyes grew a bit softer. „Trust me on this: Vader’s not half as tough as he’d like everyone to believe. He just found you, and he’s scared spitless of losing you again.“
„Still...“, Leia began, but Luke interrupted her: „Quit bickering already, you two. We’re stuck with Jix, we’re going to have to make the best of it.“
„Luke, if you think...“
„Leia, Jixton already said he trusts your competence.“ Luke kept his voice calm. „It’s not his fault father made him join us.“
Leia huffed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. „He could have declined.“
„Oh, come on“, Han chimed in. „Your dad can be very persuasive, you know.“
Leia shot him a glance that clearly said `you, too?`, but kept her tongue.
„Anyway, we’ll be reaching Endor soon, and I don’t want any differences in the group. Leia, just try to forget Jix‘s secondary mission, alright? And Jix, I expect you to treat Luke and Leia the same as anybody else. Don’t hover, because that’s my job. Got that?“
Tomas Piett sat stiffly in his seat aboard the shuttle; one might think he was standing at attention, only sitting down. Opposite him, Darth Vader leaned back in a slightly more relaxed manner, studying what little information Rebel High Command had deemed necessary to relay to the Rebellion’s newest members. Anakin understood they were on a need-to-know basis. Still, his idea of what he and his officers needed to know and Madine’s seemed to differ greatly. The former Imperial’s distrust could not be helped at the moment. At least he was in no position to exclude the Executor and her crew completely from the proceedings.
Anakin handed the datapad over to Piett. “Have that uploaded to our main computer and inform the officers, Admiral.”
“Something on your mind, Piett?”
Piett shook his head. “Not really, my Lord.”
Anakin raised one eyebrow. It was very unlike Piett to hedge; whatever it was that disturbed the other man, it was either of a private nature, or he did not know how to phrase it yet.
“Out with it, man”, Anakin grumbled. The Admiral pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I’m worried about the upcoming battle, my Lord.”
“Do you think our men will regret their decision?”
Piett nodded, then shook his head no. “That too, Sir, but it is not really the cause of my concern. No, it is our new crew members.”
“The Rebel prize crew?” Anakin clarified.
“Yes, Sir. The time has been barely adequate to integrate them into our crew. I’m worried about their apparent lack of discipline.”
„Ah.“ Anakin leaned back in his chair. “I do not think you need to concern yourself with that, Admiral. The Rebels may appear to be rather lenient in that department, but their performance in battle has never been compromised by that.” He cocked his head and smiled. “Otherwise, this war would have been over years ago.”
Piett shook his head slightly. “I don’t mean to be negative, Sir, but their performance within the Rebel military is no indication of how well they integrate into our crew.”
“Hmmm. So you think there’ll be friction?” Anakin nodded slowly. “You are right, of course. Merging crews is always difficult. But there is nothing we can do about that.” He massaged his neck and suppressed a yawn. “It’s been a long couple days, Piett. I should get in some quality rest time before the battle. Unless there is anything that needs my attention now?” He looked questioningly at the Admiral; Piett shook his head.
“Everything is as ready as it can be, under the circumstances, my Lord.”
“Good. In this case, I’m going to get some much needed beauty sleep as soon as we’ve landed.”
The Tydirium dropped out of hyperspace not too close to the green moon of Endor, and the steel moon orbiting it with its own ring of destroyers and lesser ships on guard.
Chewbacca growled and shook his massive, furry head.
“Yeah, I don’t like it either. That’s a lot of ships here”, Han growled back.
“Think they are waiting for us?” Jixton asked.
“I sure hope not.”
“Now we’ll find out if the code was worth the price we paid for it”, Leia muttered.
The massive triangular shape of a Star Destroyer slowly pushed itself into the Tydirium’s trajectory. A tinny voice came over the radio, demanding their designation and the code. Han complied, glad that his hands were not shaking, although his throat was drier than the Tattooine desert. Damn, he was an experienced smuggler. He had fooled the Imperial fleet more often than he cared to count. Why was he showing nerves now?
Because it was never the whole damn fleet, a tiny voice in the back of his mind answered his unspoken question. And it used to be only Chewie and you, no-one else’s lives depended on you before. Now, you have Leia to think about… and the Rebel Fleet.
Han resolutely stamped down on his doubts; he would come through, for Leia, for Luke, and for the Rebellion, but most important, for himself. His luck would not run out, simply because it would be the single most rotten time for it to do so. The Corellian smuggler smiled grimly to himself as Tydirium drifted ever closer to the Star Destroyer. What took the Imperials so long?
“Shuttle Tydirium, what is your cargo and destination?”
Han licked dry lips before he answered: “Parts and technical personnel for the sanctuary moon.”
“Tydirium, you are clear to proceed. Prepare to receive guidance signal; do not deviate from the guided course.”
“Copy that. Tydirium out.” Han cut the transmission and leaned back in his seat. “See, I told you, no sweat!”
The Tydirium swung around and followed the guidance signal through the narrow corridor cut into the Death Star’s defence shield for her. Han waited until they had well cleared the shield and were already in the moon’s upper atmosphere before he took the controls again. This was the most critical part; getting down on Endor without arousing suspicion and getting shot down. Landing in the designated area was, of course, out of the question. The whole strike team would be arrested as soon as an Imperial set eyes on them. There was no other way but to fake a crash close enough to the shield generator to reach it within a day’s march through the woods. And that was where Han’s talents as a smuggler were needed. He had to take the shuttle into a barely controlled spin down into the denser layers of the atmosphere, making her look as if she were breaking apart, and still land her safely and on the spot. Not something just any pilot could accomplish.
“Strap in, everybody. This is it”, he announced and cut the engines; Tydirium, not built for unpowered flight in the upper atmosphere, bucked under him, stalled, and tumbled over her left wing.
“Tydirium, you are off course. Correct your altitude”, an as yet unhurried voice came over the radio.
Chewbacca hit the button that activated the emergency beacon.
“Repeat, Tydirium, you are losing altitude fast. Restart your engines!” The calls were rapidly becoming frantic.
Chewbacca released the dummy – a clever contraption that would explode seconds after release, giving ground control the impression that the shuttle itself had exploded, and deactivated the beacon. To any observer it appeared as if the shuttle had exploded, and a large chunk was hurtling down towards the moons surface. That large chunk was, of course, Tydirium herself, descending in a truly suicidal manoeuvre.
At the very last moment, Han Solo restarted the shuttle’s engines and turned the almost-fall into a gentle curve below the Imperial sensor range. The smuggler thanked whatever Force or deity was responsible that the Imperials did not use a sensor array for the lower atmospheric strata; their sensors were state-of-the-art equipment, designed to find anything that came in from space, but the sensor network started about five klicks from the surface, or so the Bothan spies had assured them. Had the Empire still used old-fashioned radar, the Rebels would have had no chance to pull this mission of.
Flying lower, Han looked for a place to land far enough from the shield generators and the Imperial garrison to hide the shuttle, and still close enough to reach their goal within the given timeframe. Skimming over the tree tops, he finally found a clearing less than fifteen klicks from the garrison. He set the shuttle down as close to the trees as he could get; the woods would provide additional cover in case somebody else flew over the clearing.
“Alright, let’s get this show on the road. Captain, I want this shuttle invisible from the air in 15 minutes. Everybody, get your gear, we’ll move out in 20”, he ordered.
Anakin palmed open the door to his quarters and stopped short.
“Doctor Hanley”, he greeted the obnoxious CMO in a flat voice. “What do you want?”